The Intern is not my kind of film, but I was willing to give it a shot because it stars Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway. In the end, I’m glad I did. In fact, it might very well be my favourite Nancy Meyers film written and directed by the veteran filmmaker (this excludes What Women Want, which she did not write, and the Father of the Bride films, which she did not direct).
De Niro plays Ben Whittaker, a bored 70-year-old widower who decides to sign up for a senior internship at an online fashion start-up run by Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway). At first, no one takes Ben seriously, most of all Jules, but as he continues to prove his worth and capabilities they finally realise he’s actually a superhero alien. Okay, that’s not exactly true, but it’s not that far off.
Strangely, it’s Ben’s other-worldly affability that makes The Intern such a watchable movie. De Niro’s excellent performance has a lot to do with it, but credit must also go to Meyers’ screenplay for not going too far so that it becomes hard to swallow. He’s just an incredibly nice, wise dude who knows what to do and say almost all the time. He’s kinda like Yoda.
Hathaway is also very good as Jules, who has more layers than Ben because she’s struggling to find a balance between work and family while being pressured to run her rapidly expanding business in a certain way. The rest of the cast, which features the likes of Rene Russo, Pitch Perfect‘s Adam DeVine and Anders Holm, all fill out the supporting roles to the right tune.
My problems with the film can be found in more or less all Nancy Meyers movies. It’s just too neat and tidy, too schmaltzy, too saccharine. The humour is sweet, a little sexy at times, but generally very safe and nothing that will have you rolling in the isles. She knows what buttons to push to give her target audience what they want, but as a result the bittersweet vibe of her movies is always very similar. Even the conflicts play out the same. If you’ve seen the likes of It’s Complicated, Something’s Gotta Give and The Holiday, you’ll have an idea of what I mean.
The other issue I had is that Ben doesn’t undergo much character development, if any. He’s clearly the protagonist and the story is told from his perspective, but the journey belongs to Jules. Not that this ruins the movie, but I was kind of hoping that the old guy would have something to show for the whole experience.
Having said all that, The Intern is far better than I anticipated, largely thanks to the surprising chemistry between De Niro and Hathaway. There are certain ideas and gags in the film that would have been cringeworthy stuff in the hands of a lesser filmmaker, but the steady approach of Meyers ensures that things are pared back when they have to be. The result is a charming, breezy, and of course feel-good dramedy that fans of Meyers will lap up. This is the kind of film that I probably would have hated when I was a little younger or in a cynical mood, though I managed to catch it at the right time and enjoyed it a lot, certainly much more than I thought I would.
3.75 stars out of 5