Movie Review: “The Intern”

Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway, Anders Holm, Rene Russo, Adam DeVine, Andrew Rannells, Christina Scherer
Nancy Meyers

It’s a good thing that Nancy Meyers has so many friends in Hollywood, because if anyone else made a film as terrible as “It’s Complicated,” it likely would have ended their careers. The 2009 romantic comedy took Meyers’ brand of wish-fulfillment fantasy to gag-inducing levels, and Meyers addresses some of those criticisms with “The Intern,” a welcome departure from her typical fluff that forgoes the romance between its two leads in favor of something more genuine. Granted, the movie still looks like it came out of a Pottery Barn catalog, but thanks to some good performances from Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway, it’s a relatively enjoyable workplace comedy that’s marred only by its bipolar script.

De Niro stars as Ben Whittaker, a 70-year-old widower who’s quickly grown bored of retirement and is searching for something to help fill the void. When he applies for a senior internship program at a flourishing online fashion site, he’s assigned to be the personal intern to founder Jules Ostin (Hathaway), who in just 18 months has transformed a simple idea into a successful business, despite having no experience. Though her hands-on approach is admirable, the job has begun to consume her life, leaving little time to spend with her husband (Anders Holm) and daughter (JoJo Kushner). Jules is burnt out and clearly in over her head, but when the company’s investors suggest hiring a seasoned CEO to help steady the ship, she’s hesitant about handing over the keys to an outsider. Ben enters Jules’ life just when she needs it most, gradually breaking down her hard shell to become a mentor figure as she faces life-changing decisions in the office and at home.

It’s refreshing to see a film about an older man and younger woman that doesn’t involve some sort of icky, Woody Allen-esque romance, because although “The Intern” isn’t technically a romantic comedy, it features many of the same tropes reworked to fit Ben and Jules’ platonic relationship. The characters aren’t any more believable than the ones from Meyers’ previous movies, but De Niro and Hathaway are so charming (especially the former, playing the nicest guy on the planet) that it’s never really a problem while the film is humming along. The supporting cast is also a lot of fun, including Adam DeVine and Zack Pearlman as a pair of fellow interns, as well as Rene Russo as the company’s in-house masseuse who instigates a playful flirtation with Ben.

Unfortunately, that feel-good factor doesn’t last forever. Though the movie gets by on its sweet, fish-out-of-water story in the first hour (and at the cost of only a few old fogie jokes), it takes a sudden detour into more serious territory midway through and never quite recovers. Jules’ struggle as a successful career woman trying to balance work and family is ripe with dramatic conflict, but it’s not nearly as entertaining, particularly when Meyers is so staunchly in her protagonist’s corner that the audience is never given the chance to pass judgement for themselves. We’re told what to feel and when to feel it.

We never see Jules’ various meetings with the prospective CEOs, instead forced to take her word that they went as poorly as she insists, while a third-act subplot involving her seemingly awesome husband is horribly mishandled, completely missing the point of his actions. The second half feels like a very different movie as a result – one that trades its fun workplace environment for a bunch of ultra-feminist nonsense that undermines the very progressiveness of Meyers’ script. Nevertheless, “The Intern” does enough early on to convince you to buy into the ridiculous premise, and that goes a long way in making the film a lot more watchable than even her most fervent detractors would care to admit.