Robert De Niro is best known for his mafia tough guy roles, but in The Intern he’s a sweet old man. Jules (played by Anne Hathaway…sorry, Jess) runs a successful eCommerce fashion website that she created from the ground up. Ben is retired and bored, so he applies for an internship for senior citizens.
The movie is cute and funny, though not Oscar material. But that’s not what I’m here to write about. I’m here to go off on a tangent.
The Intern makes has a few points to make about 21st century culture. Ben is a relic from the Mad Men era, that generation whose values were pushed aside as the counterculture came to the forefront in the late 1960s. That cultural shift was a good thing in many ways, but maybe we did throw out the baby with the bathwater.
Ben has cast aside many old fashion notions. He defends Jules’s hard working and decisive management style, telling a group of stay at home moms that she broke the glass ceiling. Ben tells Jules that she doesn’t have to tolerate her husband’s affair as a price for being more successful than he is. Ben is emotionally sensitive and isn’t afraid to cry while watching a tearjerker.
But Ben hasn’t left behind the good manners that Baby Boomers and younger generations have forgotten. He also understands technology’s limitations. When one young man in the office laments that a woman he’s interested in won’t respond to him even though he’s texted her “like, a billion times,” Ben simply asks the young man if he’s tried talking to her. Ben is a man who was married for 42 years before his wife died, and when he meets a woman close to his age (played by Rene Russo) he calls her without making her wait a few days.
His young coworkers are amused that Ben shaves and puts on a tie before going to work. In one scene, Ben is wearing a suit and tie while three young men are dressed in t-shirts and hoodies. Jules notes that today it’s considered sexist to refer to women as girls, though men are now often referred to as boys. Cue the too casually dressed young men looking embarrassed as they glance at Ben’s suit.
Young women, Jules continues, grew up in an era of girl power, and maybe the boys were forgotten. My two cents is that it’s more than that: today’s young men were raised in an era of “boys are stupid, throw rocks at them.”
The point The Intern seems to make is that today’s embrace of equality is a good thing, though the process is incomplete. But today’s culture made a mistake when it got too casual, casting aside good manners, dressing well, taking relationship commitments seriously, and treating others with respect.