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Fridays… From Freaky to Casual

by larrydachslager on October 5th, 2015

Vice Versa

The “generation gap” has always been a fruitful topic for comedy, drama, and everything in between, offering young and old alike the opportunity to empathize with their peers and roll their eyes at the other’s folly. The youngster vs. oldster canon includes several sub-genres including the all-too-familiar “body switching” movie in which a parent and child magically and temporarily exchange bodies and therefore, places. Those of a certain age will recall titles like 18 Again (1988), Like Father Like Son (1987), Vice Versa (1948, 1988), and Freaky Friday (1976, 2003). Note that the latter two titles were made twice.  (Note also that the first version of Vice Versa featured the movie debut of Anthony Newley in the role later played by Fred Savage…. but I digress.)

Vice Versa

The message running through all of these body switching films is the same. We tend to underestimate or forget just how hard the other generation has it. Despite their sameness, these movies had something worthwhile to say. I attribute at least some of my success as a teacher to the fact that I always kept a photo of my eighth-grade self close at hand as a visual reminder of what my young students were dealing with.

High Time

Another theme seemingly rife with comic possibilities borrows from the “fish out of water” school and deals with adults of advanced age attending college. These included The Undergrads (1985), Back to School (1986), and High Time (1960). (One might assume that a movie with a college setting called High Time might have something to do with the comic effects of rampant drug use on campus – perhaps a vehicle for Cheech and Chong — but since it stars Bing Crosby and Fabian, the only thing that gets “lit up” is a celebratory bonfire.) I watched all three of these films in preparation for my entering college at age 50 in anticipation of the comic mayhem I might expect. What I discovered was that, even though I was the oldest student in all of my classes and was older than many of my professors, none of the hilarious hijinks depicted in those films actually occurred. From my perspective, the age difference was a non-issue. There were certainly occasions when I leaned on my classmates for tech support and they turned to me for advice, practical problem solving, or old movie recommendations. I suppose the closest thing to an amusing incident took place when my mother came up for Parents Weekend and the two of us were greeted numerous times with the question, “Which one of the students is yours?

The Internship

Hollywood has now addressed the generational question with the recent releases of The Internship (2013) and The Intern (2015). In terms of quality, both movies are as unremarkable and unmemorable as their titles. Critical and audience response to both has been deservedly lukewarm at best. However, since they deal directly with older people jumping into a fast-moving, technology-driven workforce populated mostly with young people, the films spoke to me and I was able to connect and relate. I only wish the movies had tried harder to reach everybody else.

Disclaimer: I feel a bit strange writing critical comments on The Internship since one of its leading players is a close friend and immensely talented former student, Josh Brener. It goes without saying that none of my issues with either of these movies has anything to do with the cast members or their performances.

I must admit, on paper or in an elevator pitch, the inter-generational workplace idea behind these films sounds like a winner. So why are the finished products so devoid of anything of dramatic or comic interest? I can only surmise as an insider – that is, an older person desperately trying to forge a place in a constantly moving “online” world — the premise isn’t enough of a fantasy for effective comedy and doesn’t portray enough reality for solid satire. Both movies seem so sure that the premise alone is fool-proof, they see no need for fully developed characters or situations. The truth is, though we’d like to think otherwise, neither the filmmakers nor their target audience (today’s society) are completely comfortable with the notion of integrated generations in the workplace. As a result, these two movies aren’t very sure of themselves, either.

the-intern-

Both The Internship and The Intern work needlessly hard to break down stereotypes and show the eventual and obvious advantages of a mixed-age workforce. Each features an awkwardly shoe-horned scene in which the older workers demonstrate that they can be “bad assess” and that “old school” is cool. Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson take their impossibly nerdy young colleagues to a strip club and Robert De Niro risks arrest by orchestrating (with his impossibly nerdy young colleagues) a well-intentioned home invasion. There are also opportunities in both films for the senior workers to teach their young collaborators valuable, experience-based life lessons not available through any app.

Alternately, the younger crowd has a thing or two to teach the elders about keeping up to speed with technology. Vaughn learns not to say “on the line” instead of “online,” and De Niro learns how to make his first Facebook friend. Both movies depict environments in which, despite occasional awkward moments and rough starts, old and young people can not only work together, but by sharing the skills learned by their experiences, can make the work and its results far more productive. (But why do both movies insist that only awkward and comically geeky young people can get along with older co-workers?)

My college experience showed me that the happy endings The Internship and The Intern play out are totally reachable and easily accessible. But these two films strain so hard to make what ought to be easy points, the contents come across as clumsy fluff and fantasy rather than what they should be – truth. I am confident that, if given the chance, workers in my age group can make palpable, positive impacts in today’s high-tech, youth-oriented companies. Perhaps one of my talented young Columbia classmates will write and/or direct a movie that actually inspires real-life professional organizations that there are countless real advantages to hiring older workers (like myself). I’d be more than happy to collaborate on it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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