The Intern – Nancy Meyers on trend as usual. (Film Review)
One of my favourite cinematic moments saw Mel Gibson as Nick Marshall listening to his daughter Alex (Ashley Johnson) through a toilet door as she cries and details the problems between herself and her boyfriend. When Nick tries to leap to her rescue she cuts him off and says “He’s a total player – I know!” Nick is shocked, and says “You are so much smarter than me.”
It’s a familiar scene in a Nancy Meyers film, a tough guy made good by playing a sensitive role whose transformation comes by listening to a woman. Meyers takes action heroes like Mel Gibson, Jack Nicholson, Alec Baldwin and now Robert de Niro and recasts them as men transformed by the women around them. From the same film, the advertising slogan used to attract women to the Nike shoe is “No Games. Just sports,” another stroke of on trend brilliance that foresaw, not only the transformation in advertising to a female gaze, but particularly the transformation of the female subject as a sportsperson worth taking seriously. There is something more complex to a Nancy Meyers film than “just feel good for women.” She is probably the most consistently on point director working today when it comes to tapping into contemporary mass social trends and her female characters are always properly developed individuals with complex relationship problems that can’t be easily resolved. Almost no other main stream director can make that claim.
The real question provoked by Nancy Meyers unrelenting drive to give main stream film loving women what they want, is why this is presumed to result in a cringeworthy assessment of her films as light weight pieces of crap? Her tenacious passion for the overall message that life is worth fighting for is consistent with the unwholesome reality of how women cope with their lack of subjectivity and confrontation with the abyss. The gloss of Nancy Meyers beautiful protagonists immersed in their beautiful worlds is still tainted by the unresolved sadness of being human – and external beauty posited against a permanent sense of failure of selfhood is something women recognise as a question, not follow like sheep. Women suffer the same tragedy of the everyman, in that we are condemned to immerse and evaluate lifes banalities in order to give our existence meaning, but somehow when an Everywoman does it, she is instantly infantalised. The Everyman (think of a Judd Apatow character) is blessed with recognition, understanding and solidarity. Yet a Nancy Meyers heroine fills the thinking film watcher (female and male) with shame.
With films like It’s Complicated and The Intern Meyers doesn’t promise the happy ending, even if the world her protagonists inhabit is too beautiful for belief. This means her films are that combination women love and respond to; equal parts inspiration, innovation and recognition. Thinking women may not want to admit it, but we all see ourselves in her female leads. These plays to the Everywoman earn an ironic twist by being couched in social trends typically a couple of years ahead of the zeitgeist. It can be argued her films are not necessarily feel good, they are companion pieces, films women like to watch over and over and over again. Certainly What Women Want, Somethings Gotta Give and Father of the Bride have all been go to flicks for my “bath, facial and mani-pedi nights” as well as sources of solace in tough emotional times. My connection to a Nancy Meyers protagonist is that of a dear friend. I know they’re stupid, I know they are immersed in irredeemable banalities, I know they suffer from their own foolishness – but so do I. It should inform us that a director can connect this deeply and consistently with the mass female audience, and have us consider the Everwoman as – yes a tragic consequence of her conditioning – but also as a thinking breathing individual struggling with the anonymity of existence and the impending nothingness of the abyss. Why does the Everywoman love these films so much? What is she telling us about ourselves when she and her Nancy Meyers films refuse to go away?
If all this finger on the pulse stuff isn’t impressive enough, Nancy Meyers also guarantees an audience and can haul similar grosses to super hero films – consistently the closest any woman only films get to those box office figures. When you consider Superhero films attract males and their wives and girlfriends, but Meyers is filling her rooms virtually with females alone, those figures become all the more remarkable. She is without any doubt one of the best and most successful commercial directors working today, so it is no wonder she is consistently marked down and hailed as a failure by the primarily male critical audience. While the Paul Feigs and Judd Apoatows get high praise for a tenth of her work (and barely comparable box office hauls) Nancy Meyers still receives at best a cold critical “speak to the hand” for each and every one of her films.
And we are about to see it happen all over again with The Intern. (At the time I wrote this, there were no reviews out for The Intern – it’s no credit to my crystal balls that I was 100% right here – pun intended)
The Intern is precisely what you would expect from a Nancy Meyers film. It’s female lead is complex, her relationships are interesting and challenging and she is struggling to balance her career and her home life. Again, a tough guy will be transformed by his quiet observation of her and rewarded for offering her the help she needs without her having to either explicitly articulate her work place needs or obliged to heap emphatic praise when that assistance is given. Possibly the cleverest thing about The Intern is that he (Robert de Niro) has to observe her (Anne Hathaway) and assist her without her having to tell him or ask him. It’s his job, so she doesn’t have to justify being busy and needing help. It’s a wonderful twist and a deepening of Meyers already prevailing themes, in that her leading man isn’t just listening now – he’s anticipating her needs and meeting them in partnership with successful outcomes. In other words, it’s what the Everywoman wants in her damned superficial banality and what she really means when she says “I shouldn’t have to tell you. You should just know.” After all, he’s been expecting and receiving that for centuries.