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The Contradictory Feminism of Nancy Meyers’ ‘The Intern’

The Contradictory Feminism of Nancy Meyers' 'The Intern'

I like Nancy Meyers movies. I have seen every single one. I have seen “Something’s Gotta Give” alone about a thousand times. When it is on TV, I will watch it. It is that good. I know exactly what she is trying to say about the world and the place of women and men in it. Her movies are perfectly pretty (this one is thanks to production designer Kristi Zea) and oh so white. That whiteness was bothersome a decade ago; it’s troubling now. “The Intern” is set in Park Slope, Brooklyn (at least it wasn’t Williamsburg), and that part of the Slope is pretty white (I speak as a person who passes that area every day), but she made it whiter and very beautifully manicured. It’s like she stripped out any diversity in the neighborhood. (And don’t get me started on the fact that the characters could always get a perfect parking space on the block and that there were hardly any other cars to be seen.) 
Anne Hathaway plays the founder and de facto boss of an internet startup. It has grown exponentially in two years. I love the fact that, in this movie, a woman started a business, is seen in charge and is a leader with vision and expectations. Quite frankly, had most other writers and directors started with this premise, the character would have been a man. Point for Nancy Meyers. Hathaway’s Jules seems to have the perfect life: great kids, a fucking gorgeous brownstone (worth about $3 million), a house husband, a business she runs, etc. But, of course, she’s a mess: always late, micromanaging others and just doing way too much. Welcome to the 21st century. The work world is a shit show. People are working too hard, burning out fast and unable to afford living anywhere near where they work. (I’d love-Anne Marie Slaughter to give her take on the toxic work environment in the movie.) 

The company starts a “senior internship” program. Retired folks are brought to the company to help out and gain exposure to this brave new world. Enter Robert De Niro in his best role in years. He becomes the Company Dad. (The other two senior interns are an Asian man who disappears and Celia Weston, who is shown as being completely incompetent and annoying. Negative point for Nancy Meyers.) Company Dad helps all the kids understand what it means to be a man in the world. He teaches the men how to talk to women. He brings a handkerchief for when women cry. He listens and learns and he becomes indispensable to Jules as she is being told by her investors that she needs to bring in a CEO to help right the ship.

The thing about the movie and Nancy Meyers’ writing in general is that she can make an incredibly feminist statement and then just wipe it out in her next breath. Jules is a great role model. That she needs a so-called “work daddy” to save her and help her clarify what she can and can’t do is just offensive. Jules makes a great speech about how her generation of young women were raised on Take Your Daughter to Work Day (I almost burst into joyful tears hearing that, having worked on the program 20-odd years ago) and how men have just not kept up with women — that they have gone from George Clooney and Jack Nicholson (and Robert De Niro) to the schlubs she works with, who wear jeans and don’t shave and have man buns.

I get it, I understand; women have come far, especially in the workplace. And that’s good for our culture. Men, who used to have all the power, are struggling with figuring out how to share power, and that’s no easy feat. We are all still a work in progress, including men. And that’s what she is saying, which is good. But as it’s being said, you just kind of feel that 26- or 30-year-old Jules is lecturing us as if she were 60 or 70. And then Ms. Meyers just infuriates you by giving De Niro a love interest in Rene Russo, who is younger than him by a decade. You see him dismiss a peer, played by Linda Lavin, making her seem like a predator, and then shows up with Russo (whose character is written like a woman in a Hollywood movie written by men, meaning on the non-substantive side) to a funeral as their first date.

(Digression: Sadly, I don’t think this movie will help Anne Hathaway with her issue of how she turns off people, which, by the way, is fucking sexist bullshit. She’s done nothing but play the Hollywood game and been good at it, just like Leonardo DiCaprio. And for that, she is tortured constantly in the press.)

Nancy Meyers is a special kind of filmmaker. She’s really the only woman who does what she does. (While Nora Ephron was viewed as similar because of their age and the genre of films they made, Ephron’s movies, to me, are way more biting. Almost like a NY vs. LA sensibility.) My problem with this movie is that my expectations were too high. I hold the bar very high for Ms. Meyers, who has been breaking barriers in Hollywood. No matter what you think of her work, she is a trailblazer. She’s a female filmmaker with an extensive career as a writer first, and now as a writer/director. She’s the prototype for white feminism: pioneering, admirable, yet limited in scope.

We are all a product of our worlds, and Nancy Meyers’ world is a perfect Pinterest page. Her movies are aspirational, not inspirational. Her success lies in her longevity and her box office. She makes movies for a certain group of people (who actually still go to the movie theatres to see them), and they are successful in Hollywood.

One of the biggest problems with “The Intern” is that she abandons what is so vital to her success — talking about older women. That is her calling card, and while this year there have been older women like Blythe Danner and Lily Tomlin starring in films on the art house circuit, Nancy Meyers has a reach into the masses that few other female filmmakers have. It is sorely missed in this film. 

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