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Modern comedies dont have to wallow in sleaze
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Anne Hathaway is an Internet entrepreneur with a 70-year-old intern, played by Robert De Niro, in the new comedy "The Intern," now playing in local theaters. - photo by Chris Hicks
After reading reviews of The Intern, my wife and I took it in last weekend. It was no surprise that we were surrounded by people with hair as white as ours, or that we clearly outnumbered the younger moviegoers in the crowd.

But it did make me wonder if any of them had also read some of those reviews, which referred to The Intern as old-fashioned, old-school, predictable, comfortable and a variety of other such phrases all of which seemed to be right out of the old-fashioned, old-school, predictable and comfortable movie critics handbook of cliches.

Some reviews meant such phrases to be pejorative, but we took them as positive endorsements.

If a comedy has to be old-fashioned to be about characters who dont reference sex in every other sentence, Im all in.

The Intern, rated PG-13, has a couple of unnecessary sex gags one of which is being used in every trailer and TV promo to sell the film. But in general, the film is bereft of the kind of sleaze that dominates most comedies today (and TV sitcoms, for that matter).

So huzzah to The Interns writer-director, Nancy Meyers, for proving that a 21st-century comedy doesnt have to be filled to overflowing with the kind of thing that makes moviegoers squirm instead of laugh.

And its also nice that the film opened in last weekends No. 2 spot with $18 million.

It wasnt a huge hit, of course. In fact, its not even close to the No. 1 film, the cartoon sequel Hotel Transylvania 2, which came in at $48 million. And its hardly tip money by Marvel/Disney standards.

But its big enough to allow Meyers to continue making movies and to give audiences hope that raunchy sex romps wont necessarily be the only comedies out there.

In fact, theres a moment in The Intern that could be taken as a metaphor for whats happened to movie comedies.

It comes when the young online entrepreneur (Anne Hathaway) is chatting with her new 70-year-old intern (Robert De Niro) and three younger men in her employ. She contrasts his dapper look in a tailored suit and tie with the others perpetually dressed-down, casual attire:

Look and learn, boys, because this is what cool is. How in one generation have men gone from guys like Jack Nicholson and Harrison Ford to ? And she stops as the three look down sheepishly at their own shabby clothes.

An earlier generation would have named Cary Grant and James Stewart. But you get the point. Whereas a lot of movie comedies were once classy and clever, nowadays, insulting and crass seem to be the goals.

My wife and I still go to the movies every week (sometimes twice or more) and we used to love seeing comedies. In fact, if you asked her to name her favorite films, most would be comedies from the past.

But these days its the one movie genre we aggressively avoid. In fact, its fair to say that if we added up the comedies we see each year, the number wouldnt exceed the digits of one hand.

Rom-coms (romantic comedies) are especially troubling since modern movies equate sex with romance and every new entry seems more interested in upping the ante for graphic shocks than in striving to let humor develop organically from the characters and situations.

Memo to Hollywood: Sex and romance are not the same thing.

P.S. to the memo to Hollywood: And sex jokes are easy. Too easy.

I know theres a huge audience for this kind of thing. Box Office Mojo, a website devoted to tracking the earnings of every theatrical film release since 1980, has a page devoted to the biggest moneymakers according to rating, and the biggest R-rated comedy hits are The Hangover and The Hangover, Part II, followed closely by Ted, Wedding Crashers, 22 Jump Street and Bridesmaids, all in the top 20.

Sleaze has taken over comedies the same way comic book superheroes have taken over action films.

But in both cases, there are still moviegoers out there who would like to vary the diet from time to time, who are weary of dining strictly on one thing or finding that the table is filled with nothing appealing.

In other words, its nice to see Meyers is still making feel-good movies that can appeal to a wide age range, even if The Intern did skew older at exit polls last weekend.

And despite an intolerant raunchy-movie fan base on the Internet that loves to call out anyone who disagrees and does so in extremely vulgar terms there is still a large audience that prefers that sexual antics, sleazy gags, crass language, scatological actions, etc., take place off camera.
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