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Interesting Fluff (The Intern, Nancy Meyers, 2015)

THE INTERN Movie PosterA bright young man has a business idea and creates a start-up company to sell clothes online. After 18 months the company has become very successful and has grown from twenty-five to over two hundred employees, so big that the creator and owner is beginning to doubt his own ability to run it. He has a wife and a little daughter. When the company started the protagonist's wife was also working and was, in fact, more successful professionally than her husband, but, then decided to give up her career to stay at home and look after the child. Our hero is very good at what he does, works very hard and spends all day at work. He sees his daughter very little, but still makes the effort to take her to school in the morning whenever he can and keep up with her school, friends, parties, etc. After all, this is a Hollywood film. He eats lunch and dinner at work, sleeps very little and is permanently exhausted, but he is young and gets a rush from his success. He loves his job. By the time he gets home in the evening his wife is asleep. The marriage undergoes a relatively little crisis in the course of the film, but what is important is that the man follows and fulfills his dream.

So far nothing unusual. We’ve seen this story (minus the start-up and online business) many times before. This comes close to a description of the plot of The Intern, except for the small detail that I got the genders wrong: The protagonist is not a man but a woman, the spouse is a man, and the daughter is still the daughter. Jules (Anne Hathaway) smiles her way through her extra-busy life, quietly overcomes the obstacles in her way, ignores the gossip of the other mothers at school, and, at the end, remains as powerful, as driven, and as successful at the head of ‘About the Fit,” her online company. Her husband Matt (Anders Holm), whose turn has come to play The Little Mermaid’s Ariel at school, finds it hard to adapt but understands Jules dreams and roots for her. In terms of star power, the names and charisma of the actors playing the couple leave us in no doubt as to whom this film is about.

As happened with Meyers’ previous films, The Intern will surely be criticized for its candy-floss soft center. True, Brooklyn looks gorgeous; the interior decoration is striking; the characters are mostly happy, even when they cry; there are a few funerals that are equally sunny; and conflicts, such as they are, are effortlessly and painlessly resolved. True, Robert de Niro’s avuncular angel in the shape of intern Ben teaches Jules a thing or two about life and keeps her on course through her doubts. In his opinions and advice he is more of a feminist than Jules herself, an ideological  stubbornness that he combines with a very traditional gentleman-like behavior at all times. But, as our main point of identification, especially for the usual constituency of Meyers’ movies, he contributes in no small measure to the construction of a gender dynamics that is still far from generalized in the real world, and yet in this film appears as perfectly normal. The fluff may still be there but it quietly helps reframe the expectations, the reversal of conventions appearing natural and reasonable.

In one of the film’s funniest moments, Jules drinks one too many tequilas with her male interns and expresses her concerns that, in striving for women’s equality, society has forgotten about men, the result being grown children who are still mostly playing video games on the computer, have never learned to be adults, and have lost step with progress.  She is drunk, and, in his quiet polite way, Ben also helps the young men around him grow up (if only by explaining to them that a shirt is not necessarily a blouse andwhat the point of handkerchiefs is). Hathaway’s Jules, on the other hand, is very feminine, very heterosexual, and very unthreatening. She may not be every feminist's dream, but a smart, powerful, professionally successful woman, who doesn't give up her job in the last reel for the sake of her husband and her family is not half bad as a role model. Maybe still fluff, but quite empowering fluff in its own way.

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