I recently finished watching “The Intern” by Nancy Meyers. Granted, it was on a plane and the sound and picture resolution were not what you would get in the theater, but I have to say as far as movies go, it was pretty damn good. I’d give it four and a half stars. The missing half star is only because it’s a highly commercial film, and although it digs into some really important topics, it skims just above the surface of the deeper and more painful aspects of gender bias, keeping the viewer from having to look too hard at themselves or society. But is that such a bad thing?
I know immediately some people out there will say, “Well of course you liked it. It’s a chick flick and you’re a chick!” But the fact of the matter is: you see more of Robert De Niro in this film than you see Anne Hathaway. And his character actually has the line, “I hate to be the feminist among the two of us but…” The film seems to say, “Hey ladies, don’t hate the good guys! Some dudes are really great, and lots of them really love and support women who want to be or are successful.” Now this certainly isn’t a message I disagree with, but it left me wondering why it needed to be said in the first place. Just how much “male bashing” is going on out there? Do women really need to be told “men are not the enemy?”
IF this is the case, it makes me wonder why. And it worries me. Because no group is going to rise based on the diminishing of another group. Life just doesn’t work that way. The fact is: those who scream and point their finger ALWAYS create suspicion in others. This, however, doesn’t mean they are always wrong. It just means that there is a way to talk about bias and “bashing” anyone isn’t one of them. On the flip side, was this ultimately a way to tell the patriarchs of the entertainment industry, “Don’t be threatened by us gals on the rise because us gals really need your love and guidance?” I don’t know… but it did make me wonder.
I also wonder if some women hate “chick flicks” because they have heard them demeaned so often that they don’t want to be associated with something that some people look down on. But who are “those people” and frankly, what should anyone care what “they” have to say? If you think a movie is good and you like it, what is more important than that? (And if you don’t agree with me, I hope you agree at least that it’s ME you disagree with, not who I “represent” in some generalized way.)
Speaking of generalization, why do Nancy Meyers movies have to get stuck in the “chick flick/women’s movie” genre in the first place? Why does her work have to minimized in that way? She makes good, successful films that a lot of people pay money to watch, no matter what you think of their deeper message. Films that have interesting male characters and strong male lead actors as well as very strong female characters and actors. And the point of view of the film doesn’t feel particularly “feminine” in my opinion, as if it suffered from another way of minimizing the import of films called the “female gaze.” Her films just feel like “fantasy” to me. A particular kind of fantasy, but one that I think can appeal to men as well as women. I’d call it “the good life” fantasy.
(I realize this isn’t much of a review, classically. But I am trying to put my oar in the waters of review-land one way or the other because I think more voices of humans-who-happen-to-be-women need to be out there talking more about the stories we are consuming as part of our mass culture. So love it or hate it, I’m basically putting my money where my mouth is.)
ACTING: The film is very well acted. I felt that the actors were committed to their roles and the worlds that they inhabited. I did not sense cynicism or commenting coming from any actor. As an actor myself, this tells me that the actors themselves were feeling really happy to be there and enjoying the script, the director, and the general environment. I think this is really important because it says that the film was probably made in a positive environment, not under duress. This tells me it was a good production with a capable leader at the helm (none other than Nancy Meyers herself.)
WRITING: Nancy Meyers is terrific writer. I challenge anyone to write as neat a script and as fun a plot as she manages to come up with time and time again. Although I question some of her choices regarding how much the lead female comes to depend on the lead male, I give her the benefit of the doubt that she really gave it a lot of thought before she sat down to give us her ideas, so the least I can do is take some time to consider them. “Women do NEED men, just as men NEED women,” I think that was pretty much what she was getting at. And that’s not necessarily a terrible message. I think she really addressed a lot of gender based issues and how much almost everyone has trouble wrapping their heads around the shift of women from secondary citizens to leaders equal to men. Everyone but Robert De Niro, the old white feminist. I know a few old white male feminists myself, so I know that his character isn’t all fantasy. But he isn’t all reality either.
COLOR AND TONE: Although somewhat bright and glamorous looking, the overall color scheme fit the “youthful” tone that the film seemed to strive for. The trees were in bloom, the office was light and airy… even the trip to a warehouse seemed clean and organized. Apparently part of a “new life” that Robert De Niro’s character suddenly finds himself living in at the ripe old age of 70. That said, there was no poverty, no homeless, no rugged reality other than that one of the characters, a 20-something intern guy, couldn’t afford the rent in New York City. But don’t worry, he gets rescued. Basically there’s almost no suffering other than that by overwork. Every character was “on the way up” and enjoying good luck and the fruits of their labor. Again, this makes it a fantasy film, but it reminded me more of films of the 30’s and 40’s that were created to help distract people after the depression. Escapism in the guise of modernism. I’m not complaining.
MUSIC: The music felt like classic “rom com,” unobtrusive for the most part, and lighthearted although strangely familiar. It guided you through the film, without lyric, allowing the scenes to be viewed without too much “let us tell you how to feel” blasting through my earphones. At times it felt slick, but it never made me feel like I was being talked down to, which not all films manage, musically. Again, it kept me floating in the pretend bubble of the film’s created world.
Although it may sound like I’m bitching in some kind of super-subtle way, I really don’t think that the film was dishonest. At no point did the film try to force me to feel like this was a “reality” I had to accept. Instead it showed the pretty New York full of possibility that inspired me to move there in the first place: the cleaned up brownstones where a single family lives, the leafy green trees bursting with green over a city block in the springtime, the big warehouses in Brooklyn full of busy young people working hard at making the world a better place. A city full of hope and possibility.
That’s a not always a fantasy New York, but I’d rather remember it that way than as it tends to be most of the time: an overcrowded metropolitan area that’s now too expensive for the middle class to live in, not to mention the working class. A place where people yell at you if you walk too slow, or too fast, or for no reason at all. A place where the winter is cold and unforgiving and the summer equally hot and unforgiving. A place that runs on aggression and competition, merciless to the weak, the poor, or the unlucky.
I think you’ll agree with me that life can be hard in any town so a little fantasy can go a long way. It’s delicious to look at the lithe and lean Anne Hathaway in her fantastic wardrobe, living in her gorgeous brownstone, being driven to work in her BMW. Why not allow ourselves the taste of a cupcake?
Speaking of which, I must make a stop at the original Magnolia Bakery when I’m next in New York City. The frosting always tasted the best there.