By BRUCE DENNILL
The Intern / Directed by Nancy Meyers / PGL 7.5
Grandma / Directed by Paul Weitz / 16L 7
The Jakes Are Missing / Directed by Bianca Isaac / PG 5
A serious, earnest, polite man with an excellent work ethic Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) finds that, as a retired widower, his life has little meaning and even less to keep his mind ticking over. So he goes back to work, submitting to the embarrassment of having to, after a successful working life, taking a job as an intern. Everything about his new world is odd: his boss is a young woman (Anne Hathaway) who endless drive and intensity, and the business operates online, with the bulk of the work being done by youngsters who understand that field. This scenario could make for an overly worthy story, with viewers possibly feeling lectured at. But it avoids that via strong performances from its two hugely capable leads and, more importantly, a narrative tone that feels genuine and, at times, rather moving. Older people – retirees, widows and widowers, anyone not sure of where to look for a reason to continue – often get short shrift in films like this, but in this case, there is a great deal of empathy for Whittaker and his desire to still feel useful. That would be enough to make the project warm and cuddly, but where it steps beyond that is in extending similar compassion to Hathaway’s harried executive. She’s a lovely person whose ambition has made her inaccessible and lonely, and it’s initially a struggle for Whittaker to break through her shell. His willingness to keep trying and the pair’s developing relationship are the basis for most of the The Intern’s appeal.
Watching Lily Tomlin sound off on the pettiness of the modern world for 75 minutes is worth the price of this DVD alone but there’s more to Grandma, in which Tomlin plays Elle, an elderly lesbian with considerable emotional baggage who finds herself needing to help out her errant granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner), who’s landed herself in a fix. Elle is at once a tiger willing to fight fiercely on Sage’s behalf and the worst sort of role model, with her ideas for finding a solution to Sage’s problem including borrowing money from transvestite friends and emotionally blackmailing an ex-lover. The film is both a road movie and a buddy movie of sorts, though the pair never leave the town they love in, and they’re fighting most of the time. It’s power is in its intimacy and in the values it extols – thatfamily and good friends are (or should be) there for you whatever the circumstances. And though it’s a tight narrative, there is enough room for an excellent cast that includes Marcia Gay Harden, Sam Elliott and Judy Greer to parade their chops.
A gently comedic exploration of the disintegration of a marriage, The Jakes Are You Missing takes a spoiled (in more than one way) family – a husband who works too hard (Pope Jerrod), a wife who hates being ignored and wants out (Mampho Brescia) and the son who constantly gets caught in the middle (Mpho Sebeng) and removes them from their comfort zone. This was not part of the plan – they’re put in a witness protection programme – but the enforced break from routine means they have no choice but to re-engage with each other in new ways. It’s not a new plot mechanism, and some of the same weaknesses that have played out in similar films afflict this one. For one thing, the criminals are their trail are, while not quite cuddly, hardly cut-throat tyrants, so building up any tension a la Cape Fear is impossible. An, while the Jakes family’s new neighbours and acquaintances are charming enough in their own way, they’re never particularly well-developed, so viewers are unlikely to take them seriously. A decent film – worth a look, but no great loss if missed.