Film reviews David Stratton and Stephen Romei rate the latest releases
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