Saturday, September 26, 2015

Human Resource: THE INTERN

A cozy comedy of human connection with just enough drama to give its sweet conclusion some weight, The Intern is a mostly charming fantasy of intergenerational cooperation. The story follows a lonely retired boomer businessman (Robert De Niro) who is looking for a way to stay busy after the death of his wife. He finds a flyer for a local tech startup looking for senior citizen interns, a gimmicky outreach idea. They want people with experience (and, no doubt, pensions making lack of salary less of an issue) to help the growing online clothing retailer make ends meet. Of course the old guy gets the position, where he finds himself working closely with the company’s busy founder (Anne Hathaway). You might guess that the rest of the film shows that a 70-year-old and a group of twenty- and thirty-somethings can learn from each other, become friends, and all end up slightly happier for it. You’d be right.

Pleasant and comfortable, the movie is soft, fuzzy, and warm—the cinematic equivalent of a fancy comfy sweater fresh from an expensive dryer. It happily goes for surprisingly few cheap shots about the generation gap. De Niro wears a suit every day while his younger colleagues go fairly casual. But there’s no stumbling bumbling how-do-you-work-this-thing shtick. Hathaway is an ambitious techie small business owner juggling devices (and a marriage) while looking to grow her brand. But there’s no kids-these-days digital curmudgeon muttering. It’s not a story about a classy old guy helping a frazzled young lady build a better business. Nor is it a story about an out-of-touch grandpa doddering his way to hip style. Instead, the film in its quiet way asserts that all people are basically the same, friendships are important, and goofy grown children (De Niro’s desk is surrounded by young dopey dudes) and dapper old folks alike can bond over shared values. It’s sweet.

Undeniably sentimental, it’s nonetheless refreshing to see a big studio comedy deal in such small stakes. Hathaway and De Niro have warm sympathetic chemistry basically free of mansplaining, and never once tips over into icky romance. In fact, it’s a light movie about relationships that doesn’t feel an obligation to hit any romantic beats, slipping a few glimpses into subplots simply for extra flavoring. The bulk of the story follows the leads through the ups and downs of daily office life, going to meetings, talking to suppliers, debating strategy, or retrieving a errant nasty email (a stretch). The growing company has its problems, though not so many they can’t have a good masseuse (Rene Russo) on staff as an age-appropriate flirtation for De Niro. The movie is not really interested in the nuts and bolts of business anyway, using its setting as reason for little comic beats (mostly amusing, but occasionally too broad) on the way to its intended and effective gooey center.

Slowly but surely the leads open up to one another. It’s a rare story: an older man and younger woman who become completely platonic friends, admire one another, and provide much-needed support. De Niro meets his boss’s family (stay-at-home dad Anders Holm and adorable little daughter JoJo Kushner) and soon becomes a helpful assistant on that front as well. At work, he encourages an ensemble of young colleagues (Christina Scherer, Zack Pearlman, Jason Orley, Adam DeVine) to have more confidence. It’s a movie with a high-gloss sheen and a brightly photographed sunny disposition. Even when the plot gears turn up some potential melodrama in the final third, things remain bouncy and optimistic. Sure, these people have obstacles to deal with. But they’re so agreeable and capable it’s never much in doubt. You’d be excused for thinking every office of young’uns could use a magic grandpa figure.

Written and directed by Nancy Meyers (It’s Complicated, Something’s Gotta Give, The Parent Trap), an expert in exactly this sort of comfort food cinema, it has her typical beautifully appointed upper-middle-class interiors. Sets – vast open offices, handsome brownstones, and fine hotel rooms – are decorated like a two-page spread in an interior decorator’s portfolio. Characters’ clothes could just as easily be ready for upscale catalogue photo shoots. Every prop – Apple products, Stella Artois, a vintage briefcase – is photographed like it’ll be the basis of a new lifestyle newsletter. It’s all part of the fluffy good feelings, an aspirational setting for an aspirational story that finds a working mom and a retired man finding comfortable friendship, gets young guys a classy role model, and arrives at a cheerfully optimistic conclusion that’s so low-key and deeply sweet I didn’t mind I found myself wondering if this company (or any of the relationships involved) will last. It’s uncomplicated, but so committed to its twinkly feel-good conclusions that it makes sure it has leads so likable you need them to be happy.

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