“The Intern” could have been a great movie.
Obligatory spoiler alert here.
Ben is the grandfather you never had. He is in his 70s but you would never know it because he is physically fit and his mental faculties are as sharp as ever. He has led a long successful life and is apparently doing well enough financially to afford a nice house in a nice NY neighborhood and wear tailored suits every day. Ben loves learning and doing new things. Ben even learned to speak Chinese. Why? Who cares! Ben is obviously the picture of competence and professional accomplishment.
One day Ben come across an ad (in a printed newspaper) for a “senior intern”. A company has had the brilliant idea to hire elderly people as interns. Why? We are never told. Some sort of charity I suppose. Or perhaps it’s because seniors are always getting into trouble and therefore need something to do with their spare time. Either way Ben responds to the ad and gets “hired” because who could be more awesome than our hero?
But wait. Shortly after Ben is hired we discover that his heroics pale in comparison to the woman he will be assigned to for the duration of the film.
This is where we meet Jules. Jules is the founder and owner of an ultra-successful internet startup. This startup specializes in making sure that the clothing you order on its site will fit you when it arrives. Jules is a cross between Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs. Jules can do it all. And Jules has no need for Ben.
For some reason Ben is assigned to “help” Jules anyway and a significant portion of the movie is spent showing Ben idling in the office waiting for Jules to need him. During this wait Ben decides to help the other male interns get their acts together. Ben helps one intern fix a relationship that he broke some time ago (by accidentally sleeping with the the girl’s roommate). Ben helps another intern with general life skills like how to tuck in his shirt and wear a tie. Ben even helps Jules’s assistant, who has a masters in business degree from Princeton, get noticed by our superstar Jules.
Finally the day comes where Ben is needed by Jules. The near flawless Jules has spilled something on her coat. No doubt the fault for this mishap lays with the dish she was eating or the person who prepared it because one thing is already clear in this movie, Jules never does anything wrong on her own.
Ben goes to retrieve the garment to take it by the dry cleaners and discovers that Jules is still wearing it. When Ben goes to retrieve it from her he overhears a meeting where Jules is being maneuvered by her board to look for a CEO to give her some “adult supervision”.
This is the major conflict that the movie revolves around. Who will Jen choose as a mentor/boss?
A minor conflict arises at this point because remember Jules doesn’t need Ben. The script writers needed to figure out how to get Ben close enough to Jules to provide her with some of the great advice he’s already doling out to the other interns. This is solved by Ben casually looking out of the window and seeing Jules’s driver drinking from a flask in his jacket. Ben confronts the driver and allows him to gracefully exit the scene while Ben assumes the duty of driving Miss Daisy, err Jules.
This is where we learn about Jules’s life away from work. Just kidding. Jules’s personal and professional lives overlap so much that Ben basically becomes the Alfred to her Batman from this point on.
The movie reaches its climax when Jules decides that she doesn’t need a CEO to provide her with adult supervision at all. What she really needs to do is to simply lean in a little more.
Along the way we learn that Jules’s husband, who just comes out of left field in the movie, is cheating on her because he is just not strong enough to be a good house husband, excuse me stay at home father. We also learn that Jules has a strained relationship with her mother. We know this because at one point in the movie Ben leads a raiding party of interns to go delete a nasty email about her mother that Jules sent to her mother by mistake.
At no point does Jules learn or grow in this movie.
In classic feminist fashion every other character is made to confront their shortcomings and flaws. What makes this movie somewhat unique, however, is that it pits the cultural milieu that gave rise to two competent and accomplished characters against each other. Ben likely grew up in the 30s and 40s. Jules remarks on how Ben has managed to shed the sexism that his generation is apparently notorious for and at one point Ben actually says “I don’t mean to be the feminist here” while correcting Jules when she toyed with the idea of giving up the feminist fantasy world she’s living in because her family is in danger. Jules, on the other hand, grew up in the progressive 90s and 00s where she was expected to break glass ceilings while also having a family and competing for mom of the year.
Everything that makes Ben’s advice worth listening to is at odds with how Jules is living her life. One of the sub-plots in the movie is that Ben is looking for female companionship. Not a wife, just someone he can take to funerals and occasionally have sex with. Think of it like an elderly play date. Anyway, through this sub plot we learn that Ben was happily married before and his wife stayed home to take care of their son. We never meet the son in the movie or even hear anything else about him. This is especially odd when you consider how the climax of the movie goes with Jules crying about how she is likely to die alone if she divorces her husband.
Jules thinks it’s unfair that her husband will likely run off and re-marry the soccer mom he’s been seeing for quite some time now while work will likely consume and overshadow any hope of a family for Jules.
Ben resolves this for Jules by telling her she can be buried in the same plot with he and his wife. I’m not sure how this is supposed to resolve the real conflict Jules raised earlier but according to the magical world of cinema, it does.
This could have been a great movie. The question underlying the whole elderly intern program idea appears to be “where have all of the seniors gone from our lives?” We read about how timeless wisdom about life and how to live it well used to be transmitted down through generations by having elderly people around to mentor us. In fact the movie’s tagline is “experience never gets old”.
However the inescapable lesson the movie seems to drive home is that the only real wisdom the older generation can give is in being cheerleaders. I mentioned earlier where Ben led the interns on a raid of Jules’s mother’s house to remove an email Jules accidentally sent out of frustration. That email was Jules complaining to her secretary about how her mother was a raging bitch because she had the audacity to criticize Jules. Jules wants to get rid of Ben early on because he is “too observant” and she tells him later that she considered that to be a problem because she feared he might judge her. I don’t think the word “mentor” is used in the film at all. It couldn’t be because that would imply a relationship where Jules would be expected to confront her character flaws and grow past them. However the lesson that is driven home in this movie is that feminist heroes arrive on the scene already perfect with no further character development required. In fact it is the world that needs to develop around them.
Here’s the trailer. And even though I think this movie could have been great I still think it’s worth watching. If nothing else it provides great food for thought.