Nancy Meyers helms The Intern, a 2015 comedy that will doubtlessly appeal to fans of such outings as It’s Complicated and Something’s Gotta Give. It’s a predictable and clichéd affair, one brimming with an invasive score that tells the audience what to feel and an odd sensibility that undermines its progressive proselytization.
Of course, The Intern is meant as harmless fluff. It tiptoes around the generation gap, makes gentle ribs about old people and social media, proposes a premise that belongs in a Lifetime movie, and bathes itself in a constant sense of cordiality. Everything bumbles through a sense of weighted prescription, with certain contrivances appearing because the plot has to get from point A to point B.
Robert De Niro stars as 70-year-old widower Ben Whitaker. He’s looking for a way to spice up his life, so he settles on a senior citizen internship program at a growing e-commerce fashion company. The company is run by Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway), who is perpetually busy. Ben is assigned to work for Jules and the office takes to his wisdom and charisma with relative ease.
There is some reluctance on Jules’ behalf, at least initially, but Ben charms his way into her existence as well. He meets her husband Matt (Anders Holm) and becomes her driver. He even develops a relationship with the masseuse (Rene Russo) and assists Jules in making major decisions. All the while, Jules struggles with how to juggle her business and her personal life.
De Niro’s Ben is essentially a flawless character. He’s the sort of gentle old man most people dream of knowing. He wears suits everyday, he has a handkerchief, he’s always gifted with some words of wisdom, and he always gets to bed on time. There are no legitimate issues between Ben and any other characters, which is a testament to his overall awesomeness.
Hathaway’s character is similar. Her big flaw is that she works too hard, which opens the door for Ben’s fatherly advice. Jules’ company is “too successful,” which means she has to make a decision on hiring a CEO. Naturally, her marriage is in trouble because stay-at-home dad Matt can’t handle the successes of his wife. Or something. And naturally, her marriage soon becomes the film’s primary focus.
The Intern tells more than it shows and that’s the first of many problems. Jules is set up as a hard-ass boss, but there’s nothing to her character that suggests she’s difficult to get along with. Hathaway doesn’t reach into anything with an edge and she seems almost irreparably kind, like a deer caught in the headlights of her own success.
This inherent lack of real flaws sinks The Intern into sappy, almost condescending territory. Some jokes are typical, as though the mere mention of “Instagram” by a young person is designed to garner chuckles. Others are more elaborate and weird, like a heist sequence that has De Niro team with three young dudes to hijack Jules’ mom’s computer. Yes, that happens.
The staff of Jules’ office is mostly comprised of man-children, like Adam DeVine’s dopey character who can’t imagine why his cheated-on sweetheart Becky (Christina Scherer) can’t stop crying. The answer is invariably that “women cry,” a constancy preached by Ben. It’s also the rationale for his carrying of the magic hankie, which comes in handy on more than one occasion.
The film’s treatment of women is curious, to be kind. On one hand, it insists that they’re more than capable of running a business. On the other, they’re constant criers. And Jules’ mother reveals via telephone that women who sleep less than seven hours a night will gain some serious poundage. Ben brings this up later when dear Becky won’t stop crying.
The Intern is a formulaic movie, so its treatment of its characters is bound to follow the line. Ben is the perfect human, a wise older man who knows when Jules has had enough to drink and understands what it’s like to be in the Workforce. And Jules is in over her head, despite her irrefutable pluck. It makes for a wonky workplace tale, the sort of story that drowns in old-world conceit and reads better in large print.