What do you get when someone from the Silent Generation (not even a Baby Boomer, at that) works for a Millennial?
A riot, like grandchild hiring grandpa (or great grandpa), give or take the forty year gap.
The Silent Generation, now in their 70’s, are children of the Great Depression plus two world wars, denizens of a bygone analog age. Millennials, two generations removed, now in their 30s, are still riding high on the digital craze.
Anne Hathaway, as thirtyish Jules Ostin in “The Intern”, was an online startup boss version of Meryl Streep’s fashion dragon, Miranda Priestly, in “The Devil Wears Prada”, only sweeter, much younger, more easily threatened by her elderly intern’s being “too observant”.
Robert “Bob” De Niro, as Ben Whittaker, was the septuagenarian male version of Andy Sachs, Miranda’s junior personal assistant, whom Anne played in that movie. “It’s a tale of age over youth,” he acquiesced.
Ben, a restless 70 year-old retired widower, plays golf and pinochle, goes to movies, reads, takes cooking and Mandarin lessons, tries yoga and Tai Chi and globe-trots to fill his time. Yet, he missed working and having a place to go. Something was missing from his life.
“He didn’t have an overly ambitious career but he’d done well and felt fortunate. He liked his job. Now he’s finding retirement to be a different thing from what he expected,” Bob pointed out.
Ben first encounters Jules when he lands a “senior” internship at About the Fit, her rapidly growing e-commerce site. When Jules agreed to have senior interns, however, she assumed it meant seniors in college.
“Jules isn’t so great with older people,” Director, Writer and Producer Nancy Meyers acknowledged. “She has a bumpy relationship with her needy mom, so she feels she’s not the best candidate to be assigned a senior intern.”
“She resists initially because she knows the speed at which her business and her life runs. She imagines somebody older might slow her down. But the senior intern program may be just what she needs,” Anne observed.
Nancy set the story against the start-up culture because it’s the ideal backdrop for the gender politics and generation conflict to play out. But here, she gave the generation gap a twist.
“As women went from girls to women, men went from men to boys. While girls were told they could accomplish anything, guys got a little lost in the shuffle and are still trying to figure it out,” the director explained.
While Bob took a lot of flak this week over the film’s publicity, especially after he walked out on a reporter in the middle of an interview, Nancy considered having him in the role of Ben as a casting coup.
“Bob’s a brilliant actor with tremendous depth and range. In his other comedies, he’s often played a humorous version of the tough guy, but in ‘The Intern’, we get to see a different side of him,” she reasoned.
“Also, in our film, he’s not only playing against Anne as her intern who becomes more of a mentor than a mentee. He’s also playing against a group of young actors, several from Comedy Central. Their backgrounds couldn’t be more different and that led to some very rich moments on and off screen.”
On the other hand, Anne’s work ethic is not far removed from her character.
“Annie has great drive and energy on screen and is one of those rare actresses who can do it all. She’s funny when we need her to be, and so vulnerable and truthful in the more dramatic moments. She’s also not straight down the middle. She’s got a quirkiness which I love.”
In “The Intern”, what begins as Jules’ resistance to Ben soon gives way to respect and appreciation.
“In a company full of young techies with maybe not so many people skills, Ben inspires us to look up from our computers and really engage. Jules is the product of a generation that makes snap decisions: click on it, tweet it, post it, trash it, so I think she puts a lot of pressure on herself,” Anne elaborated.
“Ben shows up and he just listens to her. He doesn’t judge. He just accepts her and brings a level of calm. All the things she’s afraid other people find off-putting, he sees as indicators of someone of value. He may have wanted to be needed but it turns out she needed him too.”
“The friendship that gradually forms between Ben and Jules is what kept me writing,” Nancy attested. “It’s their personal connection that drives this story.”
Fortunately, the director never attempted to bring any overtures of May-December romance between Ben and Jules. Between them, a platonic and professional relationship is more credible.
However, at some point, “The Intern” comes across as a too smooth, too smug, workplace farce. Conflict is the root of drama. But there isn’t much of it here, really, not even the kind of inter-generational sparks which it promised, the kind that takes characters over the edge, or very close to it.
Everything’s a little too perfect. While there’s a hint that not all is well in paradise – in Jules’ home front, specifically, towards the end, even this was resolved conveniently before the credits rolled out.
Nevertheless, Ann and Bob’s natural chemistry established a powerful dynamic between the characters they played.
“It’s this magical thing that happens if you’re lucky,” the director stressed. “It can’t be forced, it just happens. There’s just something special between Ben and Jules, and also Bob and Annie. And I believe it’s very palpable on screen.”
Indeed, it helped that the two actors admiration for each other was genuine and mutual.
“This kind of comedy has a certain precision, with a lot of dialogue and timing,” Bob underscored. “It’s why you need a good partner and I couldn’t have had a better partner than Anne.”
“I was so fortunate to have had Bob by my side,” Anne declares. “He makes these razor sharp turns in a scene and you feel chills go through your soul because that power is so strong and so focused and you’re right next to it. But he’s so modest and so laid back and easy going, you forget for a moment that he’s one of the greatest actors who ever lived.”
“The Intern” opens across the Philippines today, Thursday, September 24, 2015.