Nancy Meyers is an auteur of sorts. Oh ye who might scoff even now at such a prospect should take heed: every one of Meyers’ films that she has had a hand in from script to direction, and from Father of the Bride to The Intern, distinctly bears her singular style.
There will be successful protagonists of a certain income bracket and a certain (lack of) diversity; they will endure enviously simple first-world problems; and they will never once be photographed in anything less than the fuzziest of high-key lighting while beaming the brightest, 32-pearly white smiles.
Whether this world of leaky McMansion rooftops and kitchen renovation conflicts is one you want to visit is another matter. But rest assured, The Intern is very much of the piece, right down to there only being one black person present (and in the background) during bookend scenes separated by two hours—and this one is ostensibly set in Brooklyn!
The Baby Boomer going through mild discomfort here is Ben Whittaker, played by a very amused and even giddy Robert De Niro. He’s a 70-year-old widower who retired from a telephone book company after 40 years of high business success. But with his frequent flyer miles used up on seeing the world, and his picturesque, off-screen son and grandson safely accounted for, Ben has too many hours in the day that yoga cannot fill.
Luckily, a new wildly successful ecommerce start-up in fashion retail is hiring retired seniors for interns almost on a lark. Jumping at the chance to be back in the workforce, Ben aces his interviews with congenial aplomb and is soon, serendipitously, the intern of the company’s founder and all around amazing human being, Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway). There is some lip service paid to Jules being a nightmarish boss, but in Meyers Land that equates to requiring employees to perpetually dress for casual Friday while riding their bikes in the office and ringing a bell whenever someone does an awesome job at work.
Jules is of course wary of Ben being her intern, but soon enough his decades of wisdom and Baby Boomer smarts is showing this Millennial gal how to get things done, remain her own boss, and generally converse with the only other adult in a sea of hipster children that surrounds them.
The best thing The Intern has going for it is Robert De Niro. Other than David O. Russell films, it’s been a 21st century drought of self-parody, always whiffing on his Scorsese roles but decidedly not in Scorsese movies. Here, De Niro’s smile is as genuinely go-lucky as his character’s, because he is allowed to play against type as a sweet dapper Dan. The script winks at Ben being from the generation of Jack Nicholson and Harrison Ford, but this guy is just as marshmallow-sensitive as any other Brooklyn resident these days, he simply knows how to wear a suit, shave, and generally not be a pretentious slob.
He’s also balanced well by Hathaway who builds a sweet father/daughter rapport with De Niro sure to land with the target audience. Unfortunately, even by Meyers standards, Jules’ life is a little too petrified in crystal.
There is a better story buried somewhere within the hostile demotion at the workplace (investors want an older CEO) while facing smiling aggression from her stay at home hubby, but all these subplots are extraneous to the real point of the movie: wish fulfillment for a generation transitioning into retirement and still dealing with kids playing dress-up with their Facebooks and Instagrams, and all other sorts of doodads.
So, Ben is on an episodic quest of vignettes of varying quality, including his mentoring a 20-something schlub that romance is not commenced by texting, helping the only post-grad intern at the company move out of his parents’ house, wooing the more age-appropriate female co-star Rene Russo (lest minds start to wander to Sofia Coppola territory in the main plot), and being the best nanny ever to Jules’ adorably, angelically, sickeningly cute daughter Paige (JoJo Kushner)—a feat achieved by smothering her pancakes in an extra thick syrupy sweetness.
But Ben’s actual parenting of Jules just requires him slightly tweaking a wonderful life for optimal perfection. This wouldn’t be such a drag on the movie if that life were not the actual crux of the picture. But by the third act, all of Jules’ problems become Ben’s, and the familiar tropes of Nancy Meyers movies return not in droves but in battalions.
Audiences coming to watch De Niro pass wisdom onto Hathaway might be distracted by how far into melodrama the ending veers as Jules’ marriage becomes a more important issue for both protagonists than Ben’s internship. And when the other male-lead in this is a bearded T-shirt wearing wet blanket, you might wish for just a hint of that Scorsese menace being used to put the skinny jeans in their place.
I have no real desire to diminish a studio movie starring actors over 40 and in a medium-budget that requires no CGI. So at the risk of not appearing as cynically chic as Ben’s other 20-something colleagues, I am aware that this confection will grant just the right kind of amusement for its target audience with affable gentility. But much like those aforementioned pancakes, it does not stop this movie from being so syrupy sweet that it is a miracle not to gag on it during consumption.