(On Cable TV, May 2016) It would be far too easy to dismiss The Intern based on conventional expectations. As with nearly all of writer/director Nancy Meyers’s films, this is mild-mannered drama featuring rich white people, with absurdly privileged stakes and a near-absence of conflict. It would be equally easy to expect the worst from Robert de Niro (who, in fifteen years, has completed his transformation from a vital dramatic actor to a walking punchline), be annoyed by Anne Hathaway playing a dot-com entrepreneur or complain about the expected life lesson of “old people have much to teach to the younger generation”. Once you’ve completed your pre-viewing gagging, though, have a look at the film, because The Intern is quite a bit better than expectations would suggest. Perhaps the biggest surprise here is Robert de Niro, who actually manages to turn a good and poignant performance as a seventy-year-old widower returning to work out of sheer boredom. Once the obvious jokes about technology have been made, the film is free to explore notions of old-school masculinity in a modern context, and de Niro makes for a splendid role model given how he’s not asked to parody his usual persona. (One notes that the role was originally planned for Michael Caine.) The script’s gentle rhythm feels like a welcome change of pace for mainstream comedies, and there are a few highlights here and there: Rene Russo pops up as a love interest (ten years younger than de Niro, but that’s still not too bad), a few scenes of physical comedy are funnier than expected and the film does get better as it goes along. There are a few weaker moments, many of them having to do with an infidelity subplot, but The Intern defies expectations by being better than it should have been. It will work better on viewers who are ready for another Meyers film—her style may not be conventional, but her movies often act as breaks from routine. While The Intern may not set audiences ablaze or age very well (the dot-com chatter alone may date the film within a few years), it does what it intends to do and tries to do something easily dismissed but rarely attempted in mainstream Hollywood.
(On TV, November 2015) Charm can beat ludicrousness, and so it is that this modern take on The Parent Trap doesn’t suffer too much from its reality-stretching premise thanks to the comic talents of no one else but… Lindsay Lohan in her debut feature film role. Lohan’s fate since then has been the stuff parental nightmares are made of, but in 1998 she is pure teenage bubbly charm as she plays a pair of long-lost twins reunited at a summer camp. The rest of the plot is predictable as the twins conspire to change lives and bring their estranged parents back together, but Lohan is a delight as she goes from British stiff upper-lip to Californian whimsy. Dennis Quaid and Natasha Richardson are fine as the parents targeted by their daughters, but it’s really Lohan who steals the show here. In her feature film debut, director Nancy Meyer is at ease depicting the same kind of over-privileged characters in wish-fulfillment settings that would characterise her subsequent films. The broad strokes of the plot are familiar (all the way to how a romantic suitor for the father is conveniently and definitively dispatched) but this is a film best served by its execution, small sequences and actors doing their best to be charming. As such, it fulfills its goals and leaves the audience smiling. Don’t ask too many questions about the premise, though, otherwise your brain will melt trying to figure out how to get there. In retrospective, The Parent Trap is now more powerful as a striking beginning for Lohan and, to a lesser extent, Meyer, than a standalone comedy.