I love Nancy Meyers. Specifically, I think that It’s Complicated should’ve won Oscars, and Something’s Gotta Give is timeless. Have some of her movies committed crimes against women? Totally. In What Women Want, Mel Gibson saves women from killing themselves, though I’d defs expect him to have the opposite effect, and manipulates other women into having sex with him after illicitly listening into their thoughts. And The Holiday is schmaltz that operates beyond guilty pleasure status. I feel full-on shame watching it, and the only way to excuse this is the fact it’s set at Christmas. It’s a Christmas movie so it gets special privileges.
Despite the trailer for The Intern making it look like a depressing The Devil Wears Prada remake in which frat boys make erection jokes and Anne Hathaway constantly cries, when I saw the name Nancy Meyers I thought WINNER. More fool me, really. And even though De Niro’s comedy phase makes me dead inside (when will it end?!?!?!) I stupidly thought it might be good. I guess it depends how you define ‘good’, doesn’t it?
The Intern starts out fairly promising. A heart-warming premise (tech start-up seeks senior interns) which includes a home-made video by De Niro listing all the reasons he wants to go back to work at 70, and an uptight Hathaway cycling through her Brooklyn business warehouse, spell the recipe for something great. But while their chemistry is interesting (hell, they both have Oscars, so), the plot is meandering at best, and downright offensive by the final reel.
Hathaway is the boss of an empire, but the business is growing too fast and investors want to bring in a CEO. She’s devastated about this, but her home-life is suffering as a result of her long hours and the fact that her husband is a little bitch, so she considers handing over the reins of her company to a man. In fact, all of the CEOs she considers are men, I guess because women can’t be trusted with big important jobs? She interviews a bunch of them, while De Niro drives her around and becomes her confidante, against all odds.
The CEO detail wouldn’t be a huge problem if it weren’t for other spurious details throughout the movie which make us question its supposed feminist bent. Sure, it’s about a strong business woman who’s created a popular online company on her own, and is still involved in the day-to-day details. It’s her true love. However, Hathaway’s home life is shit. Without giving too many spoilers, her husband is a pathetic fuckwit who won’t fuck her when she gets home and gives her grief for missing school events, even though he’s complicit in being the primary caregiver so she can go to work. She gets more than enough grief from the other mothers in the playground, so the fact her husband is so faux-supportive, and inevitably blames her for his shortcomings and crappy decisions (needless to say he’s a cunt), makes me question how feminist this film actually is. And to top it off, she seems to buy the sorry shit that comes out of his mouth.
Thank fuck, then, for Robert De Niro! He single handedly flies the feminism flag throughout the whole movie. And I’m not complaining. It’s great that a man is so au fait with the big boss being a woman, but trouble ensues when he’s the only feminist voice in the whole film. It’s a strange decision, to make the old white guy the best feminist role model. And on one flipside that’s cool: let’s turn the tables and hear bold words from a person we wouldn’t expect to say them. But conversely, why aren’t more of the characters okay with the fact that women can do more than raise kids now?
In part, the challenges Hathaway faces mirror the trials all working women face: bitchiness in the playground from envious mothers, whisperings at work that she’s difficult to deal with, a husband at home who has given up his own successful career for her more lucrative one. And these are all good things to see, which make the movie real. The error, though, is in having Hathaway turn to De Niro for advice. It’s fine to have a father figure, a best friend whose words you implicitly trust, but when she starts going to him before every important decision, it undermines her own power. He becomes her keeper, and she listens to his opinions more than her own.
Some particularly suss-moments which undermine feminism and made me question whether feminism had even happened yet included an outing to a bar at which Hathaway proclaimed she could hold her drink and proceeded to do shots. De Niro repeatedly asked her if she was sure, and gave her concerned and knowing looks throughout. Back off, dude – you’re ruining my buzz! He was then there to hold her hair back while she puked her guts up, because, what do you know? He was right, yo! Women can’t hold their liquor! In another bizarre plot point, Hathaway invites De Niro into her hotel room for a nightcap and tells him, “You can sit on the bed. I know you’re tired.” She then gets on the bed too, and at this point, it’s time to wonder where this film is headed.
De Niro’s old white guy feminism which solves everyone’s problems (If there’s an untidy desk in the office, he’ll sort it! If your car needs a driver, he’ll drive it!) isn’t the only female problem this film has. Aside from Hathaway’s boss-lady, who even with the constant crying is kind of rad (Hey, it takes a big person to cry at work!), the other female characters in the film are poor stereotypes. Hathaway’s Mom is a bitch we only hear on the phone who won’t say I love you. The mothers at school are all mean and judgemental. Hathaway’s assistant is an insecure mess who just wants to be praised and ends up being consoled by untrustworthy men in the office. The only saving grace is Rene Russo, but she is mostly around for the comic value of rubbing De Niro’s feet in a provocative way. Sex in the 21st century: who can keep up?
The film is all about the bros, as De Niro hangs with the young men from work, who help heist people’s houses while making Ocean’s Eleven jokes (ugh, when will that get old?). I think we’re meant to see their bonding moments as important, De Niro being a lonely widower and all, but the clichés keep on coming, and women continue to draw the short straw. Plus, the dick jokes don’t always find their footing. As happens in the trailer, De Niro gets a hard-on while being massaged by Russo in the office (She’s the resident masseuse). This is never considered to be sexual harassment in the workplace, but shouldn’t it? I’m not trying to kill anyone’s fun here (feminist kill joy for the win), but imho Russo would have a pretty stiff (heh) suit against De Niro for trying to smash one out while she just did her job. The power imbalance is ever-persistent.
Nancy Meyers may have staunchly defended this film from being branded a “chick-flick,” but rest assured, it’s actually a major sausage-fest, in which feminism exists only in the mouths of old white guys who definitely know better than you. I hope you enjoy it very much.
Amy Mackelden (a.k.a. July 2061) is a writer based on the Isle of Wight. Her writing has featured in places such as heat magazine, New Statesman online, Kinkly, xoJane and Hello Giggles. She won a Northern Promise Award from New Writing North in 2011 and a New Buds Award from New Writing South in 2015. She’s one of the co-founders of poetry magazine Butcher’s Dog, and has made two spoken word/theatre shows, The 8 Fatal Mistakes of Online Dating (& How To Avoid Them), & Retail, which is set in a closed-down Blockbuster & about a shared love of Woody Allen. Her blog, July 2061, was shortlisted in the Blog North Awards 2012. She is totally, 100%, are you fucking kidding me, Team Krakow.