Film re­views David Strat­ton and Stephen Romei rate the latest re­leases

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents -

Stephen Romei The In­tern (M) Na­tional re­lease Miss You Al­ready (M) Na­tional re­lease

Robert De Niro is clos­ing in on his 100th fea­ture film. While he’s made some for­get­table ones in re­cent times, we won’t for­get him. Vito Cor­leone ( God­fa­ther Part II), Travis Bickle ( Taxi Driver), Michael Vron­sky ( The Deer Hunter), Jake LaMotta ( Rag­ing Bull), Ru­pert Pup­kin ( The King of Com­edy) and Jimmy “The Gent’’ Con­way ( Goodfel­las) are the mag­nif­i­cent seven who will make sure of that. And you could add sev­eral more. A per­sonal favourite is Monroe Stahr, the un­con­ven­tion­ally charis­matic Hol­ly­wood stu­dio boss in Elia Kazan’s The Last Ty­coon (1976), based on the un­fin­ished novel by F. Scott Fitzger­ald. So I think we can for­give him the oc­ca­sional Focker- up.

In his ap­peal­ing new film, The In­tern, De Niro is cast counter to re­cent type: he’s calm, not cranky. His Ben Whit­taker is 70 years old (the ac­tor is 72) and has had a good life. He’s a wi­d­ower, his wife of four decades hav­ing died three years ago, and re­tired from a long and suc­cess­ful cor­po­rate ca­reer. He lives alone in a nice house in Brook­lyn, New York, and doesn’t know quite what to do with him­self. “I am not an un­happy per­son,’’ he says, “I just know there is a hole in my life, and I need to fill it.’’

A so­lu­tion presents from an un­ex­pected quar­ter: the world of e-com­merce. About the Fit, a start-up that sells women’s cloth­ing online, ad­ver­tises for se­niors to be­come in­terns as part of a com­mu­nity out­reach pro­gram. Ben not only lands a job but is as­signed to work with the com­pany’s young founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive Jules Ostin (Anne Hath­away), whom we see rid­ing a bi­cy­cle around the open-plan of­fice.

But one of the at­trac­tive as­pects of Nancy Mey­ers’s film is that it doesn’t labour the gen­er­a­tion gap and tech­nol­ogy gulf jokes, and in­deed soon leaves them be­hind to ex­plore more in­ter­est­ing ideas. This is a work­place com­edy-drama, which of course makes it a re­la­tion­ship com­edy-drama, given the time most of us spend cooped up with col­leagues. It’s not as over-thetop as Mey­ers’s 2000 hit set in advertising, What Women Want, with Mel Gib­son and He­len Hunt, but shares sim­i­lar con­cerns.

De­spite that bike, Jules is a level-headed young woman who works hard to keep up with the suc­cess of a busi­ness she started from scratch. She has a stay-at-home hus­band and a young daugh­ter. De­spite the fact he worked for a com­pany that printed tele­phone books in the Juras­sic era, Ben is not some old duf­fer. He’s in­tel­li­gent, in­tel­lec­tu­ally and emo­tion­ally, and has the sort of life and busi­ness savvy that doesn’t come with a use-by date.

We soon learn that Jules is un­der a lot of pres­sure. The com­pany’s in­vestors think she should take a step back and ap­point a sea­soned CEO — read a man — to run the day-to-day oper­a­tions. Ben slowly be­comes a val­ued mem­ber of the team. If you think you know where this is head­ing, you may end up pleas­antly sur­prised. Mey­ers, a di­rec­tor at­tuned to the messi­ness of life in movies such as The Par­ent Trap (1998), Some­thing’s Gotta Give (2003) and It’s Com­pli­cated (2009), avoids neat con­clu­sions.

De Niro does a lot of the nod­ding and grin­ning which seems to be part of his DNA, but there are oc­ca­sions when he stops and al­lows him­self mo­ments of quiet power, such as when he watches an old movie on a ho­tel tele­vi­sion, that re­mind us just how deep is the reser­voir he’s called on for al­most half a cen­tury. He’s al­ways had a nice sense of com­edy, too, and this comes to the fore in an amus­ing set-piece, an Ocean’s 11- es­que es­capade with his fel­low, much younger in­terns. His scenes with Hath­away, who is just a star, are never less than be­liev­able. The ter­rific Re­nee Russo is un­der­used as Fiona, the in-of­fice masseuse and po­ten­tial love in­ter­est for Ben, but she’s great to watch when­ever she is on screen.

The In­tern, like Mey­ers’s pre­vi­ous films, con- siders the lot of women in the mod­ern world: how hard it is for them, still, to have the sort of ca­reers men take for granted. But it’s also about men, in an old-fash­ioned sense of the word. When did we start call­ing all men boys?, Jules won­ders at one point, look­ing at the scruffy, Tshirt clad younger in­terns. Ben, in his suit and tie, doesn’t ven­ture an an­swer, but it’s a ques­tion that doesn’t ap­ply to him any­way. “It’s of­ten those watch­ing who find it hard­est,’’ ob­serves a mi­nor char­ac­ter in Cather­ine Hard­wicke’s Lon­don-set Miss You Al­ready, a rather grim film fo­cused on se­ri­ous ill­ness and the strains it places on re­la­tion­ships. Any­one who has watched some­one close to them suf­fer will know there is truth in the ob­ser­va­tion (and may also find this dif­fi­cult to watch) — but then the suf­ferer might well dis­agree about who has it hard­est. That ten­sion is ex­plored here, too. It’s cer­tainly a de­par­ture from Hard­wicke’s best known film, the vam­pire ro­mance Twi­light.

A pre-ti­tles se­quence deftly es­tab­lishes the main char­ac­ters: Milly (Toni Col­lette) and Jess (Drew Bar­ry­more) have been best friends since girl­hood, when the Amer­i­can Jess moved to Eng­land. Milly’s party-girl life changes when she falls preg­nant to rocker Kit (Do­minic Cooper), who sur­prises ev­ery­one by mar­ry­ing her and set­tling down. Jess finds love with labourer Jago (Paddy Con­si­dine) but the cou­ple have trou­ble con­ceiv­ing.

We then move to the present and a doc­tor’s of­fice where Milly, who is now about 40, with two young chil­dren, is told she has breast can­cer. For the next al­most two hours the film re­lent­lessly fol­lows her treat­ment and the stress it places on her mar­riage, fam­ily (Jac­que­line Bisset is fun as her glam­orous ac­tress mother) and friend­ships. Lit­tle is spared — we see her vom­it­ing into the salad bowl in front of her kids, and cop­ing with post-op­er­a­tive sex, or lack of it — and her mor­tal strug­gle is jux­ta­posed with Jess and Jago’s ef­forts to have a child, a death-life dy­namic that feels a bit forced.

Col­lette is never not worth watch­ing and there are a few mem­o­rable scenes, such as her price­less re­ac­tion to a sur­prise birth­day party at a res­tau­rant. But the over­all re­sult leaves one car­ing less than ex­pected, notwith­stand­ing how se­ri­ous it all is. Mor­wenna Banks’s script is based on her own 75-minute ra­dio play, and that would have been about the right length for this film. It’s stretched far too thin on the big screen.

Anne Hath­away as busi­ness­woman Jules Ostin and Robert De Niro as Ben Whit­taker in Nancy Mey­ers’s The In­tern

Drew Bar­ry­more, left, and Toni Col­lette in Cather­ine Hard­wicke’s Miss You Al­ready

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