The Intern premiered in theaters a few weeks ago and was a “surprise” hit. I say “surprise” because this is yet another instance of male reviewers looking at female-led movies or non-superhero movies and being confused as to why when they’re successful. The answer is very simple: regardless of quality, if an audience is starved and something looks half-decent, the audience will show up. It’s the same reason that so many Tyler Perry movies rip through the box office even though they have major issues story-wise, or why it took a sequel to Pitch Perfect for teenage girls to see the issues with the first film.
I am a huge fan of Nancy Meyers in general, and I am happy to see a movie marketed towards women prove so successful this summer, but that does not fix the major issues with the story. Let’s take a look at the script and see where it went wrong, so we can all write for this audience and actually give them something worth cheering for. As always there are spoilers below. Continue reading at your own risk.
Actually, before we jump into the breakdown I have to change things. We can’t breakdown The Intern as it doesn’t actually have much structure. Our protagonist is Robert DeNiro’s Ben, a widower in retirement that has become restless. He takes a job as an intern with a start up online fashion store where he is assigned to work directly with the company’s founder, Jules, played by Anne Hathaway. Jules doesn’t want to have a personal intern though and is uncomfortable, so Ben’s goal appears to be to win Jules over. Halfway through the script, Ben cleans off a desk that has been bugging Jules and starts to chauffer her. She even utilizes him in a mock-heist scenario (that is by far the strongest sequence in the script) so before we’re even 3/4s of the way through the film Ben has seemingly achieved his goal.
The other is issue is that there is nothing wrong with Ben. He’s our protagonist and he’s perfect. His only issue in life is that he’s restless, which is a great symptom for a deeper issue that can act as a character arc. There isn’t a deeper issue though, so the moment Ben becomes an intern is the moment that his character has “arched.” The closer Ben gets to Jules the more we learn about her and she takes over the film as the protagonist. This is where it starts to go off the rails.
Earlier in the film, we meet Jules personally handling a customer complaint. She never really mentions the issue to anyone or asks for anyone’s help before she rushes off to her next meeting. She is always on a bike or heading somewhere for a meeting. We’re told that she is unorganized, has a short attention span, and that she has a lot on her plate which is what causes the other two issues. Jules is told she needs to hire a CEO to help oversee things, thereby giving herself a boss, an idea she is not comfortable with. The more people push on her to get help the more the film feels like Meyers writing her own problems into the film. This isn’t new for Meyers, if anything it is what has made her voice so unique in the last ten years, but it’s not enough to carry a film. Particularly a film that is supposed to belong to Ben, not Jules. In the end of the film, Jules hears back from the customer at the beginning who is thrilled with her service. Jules didn’t let the client down and that’s what makes her great at her job… this makes no sense. All we see is how amazing Jules is, but all we hear is how she’s failing. This makes zero sense. The writer needs to pick a lane and let the actions of the character reflect that.
In the end, Jules finds out that her husband is cheating on her from Ben. She tells her elder best friend that she already knew but is surprised to learn that it’s continuing. Ben reminds Jules that her husband’s cheating is not her fault. Jules says she knows. So why are we watching this scene? Jules goes home and talks to her husband. She agonizes over whether or not to take on a CEO and how it will effect her family. It is all ridiculous because she can make either choice and if her marriage falls apart it won’t be her fault because we have seen her put in effort over the course of the film, its her husband who let her down.
This is not the first time that Meyers has delivered a “perfect” protagonist. A few years ago, she premiered her film It’s Complicated starring Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin. I was ecstatic. I loved Something’s Gotta Give, I think it is the strongest piece of writing Meyers has delivered in her career that still carries her distinct voice. I thought the Meryl Streep-starrer would be the same. I was completely let down. In the film, Streep’s character is divorced from Baldwin. People think she might be lonely or bitter but she swears she’s not. She is fulfilled by her children, beautiful home, and booming business. The only thing in her life that is missing is a ginormous kitchen for her home. So she hires an architect played by Steve Martin. Why she needed the kitchen, I have no idea, the kitchen was already stunning. Baldwin and Streep begin having an affair, with Streep working out some sort of deeply hidden curiosity to understand what it is like to be the “other woman” but she has no desire to seek out anything long term with her former husband.
In the end, the kids find out about the divorce and in an effort to console them, Streep goes to her on-screen children and tells them she has nothing to apologize for. In context I agree. She is a grown woman and she can do whatever she wants,t he blame goes onto her ex-husband. However, if she is perfect and has nothing to apologize for then why the hell did I just watch this movie?! And now, Anne Hathaway’s character is doing the exact same thing.
The Intern, It’s Complicated, and Something’s Gotta Give all female characters that Meyers has put lessons learned from her own life into, however with each new film Meyers forgets the steps it takes to make a film a little more. Diane Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give is OCD, her home is decorated in nothing but shades of white, she’s a little high-strung, but adorable (she actually describes herself out loud, unintentionally, in the film). It’s the same character you see from Streep and Hathaway, but Keaton was given a structure to work within as well as a character arc. Streep was given structure, albeit a weak one, but no character arc. Most recently in this summer’s movie, Hathaway given a younger version of Streep and Keaton’s characters without any structure whatsoever because the film was never supposed to be hers.
Where has the storytelling gone, Meyers? I want that classic structure, flawed characters, and I want them rolled into Meyers’ fantastic voice. It is doable. The requests will not restrict you. Just get back to the basics, Ms. Meyers!