In this chick flick by Nancy Meyers, the writer and director of one of my favorite rom-coms, Robert De Niro is Ben, a recently retired widower who gets a job as an intern for a up-and-coming online clothing store run by Jules (Anne Hathaway), a young and inexperienced but dedicated businesswoman.
|... Who rides he bike through the workplace to save time. Cute, but those poor people who have to run after her!|
Since I liked The Holiday so much, I thought this would certainly be worth a look, considering the nice cast, and the quirky trailer that promised a lighthearted good time. And as it started out it delivered on those promises. The setting in the open floor-space of the business gave everything a breezy feel, so there's a comfortable flow, and a few neat quirks to make it all memorable. It was like a happier, more modern The Devil Wears Prada. Anne Hathaway comes across as a good boss; friendly and kind, if also a perfectionist and not extremely personable. Robert De Niro's Ben is an unfailing optimist and a very classy gentleman, and he pulls off the adorable-old-man vibe perfectly.
I thought that I'd mirror the movie with this review. I started out with some promise and a few positives that seem to be leading in the right direction, but now I'm going to make you wonder how good this review might actually be. That's what the movie did next. As Jules doesn't warm to Ben, things start to stagnate. The super-positive work environment sometimes comes across as insincere; I would feel unnerved like something sinister was going on, or would be very aware that I was watching a movie. We find out that Jules has a family, which seems like an odd rabbit trail. I started liking the supporting characters more than the leads. Then, Ben wins Jules' approval and things appear to head back in the original direction.
|Yay felonies! Or is it a misdemeanor? Either way, yay!|
That's when the robbery takes place. Sure, in the movie it's just breaking and entering to delete an accidentally sent email, but it sure did feel like a robbery to me. Suddenly the movie's relaxed charm was gone and replaced by unfunny situational comedy that served no other purpose than to extend the run time. In one scene this film went from cute-little-flick to tonally confusing and borderline disaster. But don't worry, it doesn't end there...
It gets much worse! After the original airy tone was discarded, a new one was quickly set in its place. Fortunately, it wasn't the dumb comic one you might expect considering the scene that brought on the change. No, it was actually what I'd call a haphazard melodrama. Either there was not enough girl power in the character of Jules, a woman who built up her own company from nothing with dedication, style, and grace... or too much. I'm not really sure. Which is it when you take a confident businesswoman (who's fair to her employees and so hands-on that she gives out her cell number to clients in case they have problems) and turn her into a weepy mess of indecision and neediness? What is the goal here?
|Her face is my reaction to all that. Followed by an eye roll and a face-palm after what happens next.|
Eventually, all this movie wants to do is preach to us about feminism, and sexism, and gender roles and things like that. I have my own opinions on those subjects, but no matter what perspective I look at it from, it's not good on a storytelling level. It's not entertaining or compelling here. Jules' home life falls apart because she spends every waking hour working, and then her husband Matt (Anders Holm) "makes a stupid mistake" and cheats on her. Whoops! This very efficiently turns him into that character that typically the female lead is dating at the beginning of the rom-com and eventually is happily rid of, except his speech about how he'll do better actually works. She forgives him, but she continues to work just as much, so everything's hunky-dory, but nothing has changed.
The message the film brings to this is that it wasn't Jules' fault that Matt cheated, which of course is true; so obviously true to me, that I thought it was odd and unnecessary how big a point they made out of it. However, just because Jules' constant absence isn't a free pass or even a bad excuse to cheat doesn't mean that it was okay for her to be such a workaholic, and it's presented that it was. Seriously, in every movie where a man is never home and obsessed with work he's invariably put in a bad light and either is a flawed character that must change, or is an actual villain -- and those morals ring true. Are we really supposed to accept that it's fine that Jules values her job over her family?
|I didn't want to get into the politics, but I guess I just did. Oh well.|
Back to criticizing the entertainment aspects: Around when the political agenda is heating up is when the entertainment takes the backseat. There's very little comedy left, and everything melts into a puddle of tears -- and unconvincing, unmoving ones at that. Sad characters drag the movie down. Drama appears out of nowhere and tries to pull the plot in awkward directions. Jules' character arc set up at the beginning is abandoned for a cheap, flimsy one, and the problem set up at the beginning of the company needing a CEO is suddenly not nearly so urgent and is dismissed with a wave of the hand. Ben also loses a lot of interest, but does remain the film's most consistent and best character throughout. Other characters are completely forgotten, like Becky (Christina Scherer) who feels undermined and underused, and her suitor (Adam Devine) who's trying to get back into her good graces.
Nat Wolff is in the movie. (I'm just trying to think of some pros.) He's a part of one sequence that is quite funny where Ben is being interviewed for his position and almost none of the questions apply to him. But that was at the beginning of the movie; when it was a good movie with fun and quirky potential. It sure did all fall down fast. And the charming appeal of the beginning only made its speedy and uninspired decline all the more disappointing.