Wednesday, 4 November 2015

The Intern

Starring Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway, The Intern is said to be the kind of mood-setting light comedy that makes people's day. Unfortunately it doesn't work that well for me, or as much as I want it to, probably because I no longer believe in the existence of miracles in daily life.

Nancy Meyers' screenplay is well researched and tactfully written, sprinkled with real-life delicacies and trivialities that help pull up a grin on the spectator's face for resonance with personal experience. Yet precisely this familiarity attributes to my resistance of the plot, which, quite understandably, was meant to keep hope and trust alight. Pardon my scepticism and negative thinking though, it just all seems too good to be true.

One of the original The Intern posters proclaims, 'Experience never gets old.' Certainly there is a grain of truth in it, but from what I saw from the film and have come across in life so far, it is not so much about experience but experience-converted wisdom. Wisdom is often generated from experience but possession of experience does not necessarily guarantee anything meaningful or valuable in return. Very often it ends up with a chest of fragmented memories that suffocates the open mind like an hourglass blocked by gems. Just as Bernard G Shaw famously puts it in Maxims for Revolutionists, 'If we could learn from mere experience, the stones of London would be wiser than its wisest men.' So, the key question is, how can experience be transformed into wisdom?

De Niro's Ben in The Intern offers a great example for reference, although it is more a showcase of the essential or ideal attributes than anything else. Working at the same company for 40 years and knowing the business of an obsolete industry inside out does not prevent him from embracing the brave new world with open arms and heart. Like many of his age, he is not familiar with the electronic gadgets and non-personal forms of communication, such as making a short video of himself talking and uploading it to the internet. At least he is willing to ask his grandson for instructions and capable of putting it into practice on his own. Notwithstanding his strong beliefs and judgements, Ben never complains. He knows exactly when to speak up and when not, so that he won't sound like a grumpy old man who feels sick of whatever comes into the way. Most importantly, his sharp discernment does not deprive him of consideration, patience and tolerance. He is willing to listen and readily accepts whatever may seem odd and different. In fact, Ben appears so discreet and modest that his self-centred young colleagues soon find him easy to get along with, always ready to help and extremely resourceful. From the dress code to how to mend a sour relationship, Ben never runs out of plausible advice and viable solutions, always available at the right time but without a trace of arrogance and intimidation.

Edward Lam's review published in Ming Pao Weekly on 17 October laments that De Niro's character is a tribute to common sense, which is often said to be dead. Perhaps I was born too late to witness an era in which knowing the limits and what to do and what not is a common indicator of adulthood. As far as I have seen, those who are able to do so are harder to find than a needle in the haystack. To me, The Intern is more a showcase of positive ageing than mourning for the long lost good. For someone of age and experience, opening up the heart and mind is difficult enough to be disheartening, even more so to opening up without compromising the essence of your true self. While Ben sets a great example for the old and young, his flawless standards are miraculously high to be achievable in this broken world.

5 comments:

  1. Anonymous6:25 am

    Thanks for your review. I was eager to watch it because of De Niro, and the plot seems to be a role reversal for Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada which could be quite interesting.
    Based on the trailer and your review, this movie seems to be another classic, inspiring underdog story that almost guaranteed to be successful at the box office.

    I would agree that the storyline seems too good be true as well. A candidate who is well over-qualified to the point of almost being unsuitable for the job would rarely enjoy the job as much as Ben does in the movie. I strongly believe that in order for someone to be genuinely happy at the job, he/she needs to have qualifications that align with the requirements, be passionate for the work and responsibilities, and be challenged constantly. When the qualifications fall short (or the person over-qualifies), it is the up to the manager to decide whether the candidate has the potentials to do well at the job, or if there are advancement opportunities that he/she can develop into in the near future. In the movie, Ben just miraculously has them all.

    From my very own experience, I once hired someone twice my age who was strongly recommended to me by executives. She was well over-qualified for the job as well. It turned out to be successful (and we built friendship along the way) but I have to admit the working experience definitely took a lot of efforts from both of us and it wasn't as smooth and fairy-tale like as it was portrayed in the movie. =)

    Pearltea

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    1. Thanks for your sharing Pearltea. What a privilege it is for you to have befriended someone like Ben in the film! Any relationship that can go over the hiccups will turn out to be strong and secure, but it is not always the case. In fact, I would say it is quite extraordinary. So congratulations!

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  2. Anonymous4:13 am

    Thanks 秋盈!
    So I finally watched the movie a few weeks ago. Kind of sticking to my first guess that the plot was 'too good to be true'. Honestly, the only time I felt 'emotional' was when Jules walked out of a building after interviewing a potential candidate - that building was right across from the work building I was in for many years. Brought back a lot of great and bittersweet memories from my years there. (and now it explains why someone told me that one day she saw Anne Hathaway walking in and out of that building for half a day!) Another building she walked in and out of is my current work building...how coincident!

    Pearltea

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    1. I see. So your comments once again reinforce my impression that the playwright is never a easy job - even though too many of us take it for granted. Most people pay little attention to the script but it is exactly what ultimately gets the message across and arouses emotions in the audience. If it fails to do so, it is not a very good one.

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    2. Anonymous12:28 am

      I give a lot of credit to De Niro and Hathaway - they are great actor/actress. But to be honest, I really hoped that The Intern would be an opposite of a typical 'chick-flick' movie, because I was really excited to see a story of a type-A working mom (ironically the term 'working dad' is awkward because the society assumes all dads work) starting her own business, devoting her passion in the career and enjoying much success in her work. Yet at the same time, just like other working moms, constantly battling balances between work and family and ignoring those little noises that try to hold her back. It hits really close to home and I can understand and even relate to some. I know that female breadwinners still aren't the majority or even a social norm today, but I was glad that at least the movie was trying to promote that. (at least for the most part)

      However, the ending was a complete contradiction to my understanding. I don't want to be a spoiler here but all I can say is that I am a feminist and I found the ending to be anti-feminism. Women should NOT try to settle for less.

      Pearltea

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