The Intern, starring Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway, is the sort of breezy, feel-good film that you’d typically stack in the rom-com pile, except that there’s no romance here…not between the leads anyway. I had a big smile plastered on my face during much of the film because I was pleasantly surprised by how real and authentic these characters felt, in the kind of movie that tends to give us broad stereotypes in place of flesh-and-blood humans.
De Niro stars as Ben Whittaker, a retired, widowed 70-year-old who signs up for an internship at an e-commerce fashion start-up run by Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway). She’s a committed entrepreneur, overworked to the point of exhaustion, and struggling to juggle family time with the demands of a rapidly growing business.
It doesn’t take a rocket-scientist to figure out that Jules, despite her initial resistance, will come to form a trusting working relationship with Ben that will subsequently blossom into a genuine friendship. You already know that Ben, with the wisdom and experience of his years, will “rescue” Jules.
Let’s face it: in a different film, the character of Ben would exist only to teach Jules the value of family and home, and to remind her that being a parent and wife comes above everything else. But writer-director Nancy Meyers isn’t interested in those cobwebbed clichés. So while it’s true that Ben does “rescue” Jules, it’s not in the way that you imagine. And, to be fair, she ends up changing him as much as he does her.
Much of the film’s charm, expectedly, comes from the heartfelt performances of both stars, particularly De Niro who’s pretty terrific even when he’s just smiling stoically. In scenes where Ben’s maturity benefits his younger coworkers, De Niro makes sure never to come off as patronizing. And he has a lovely romantic subplot with Rene Russo, playing the office masseuse. Hathaway’s in very good form too, successfully humanizing a not-easily-likeable character, and bringing genuine depth and pathos to scenes where Jules reveals her vulnerabilities.
The Intern is light-hearted and frothy for the most part, but poignant when it needs to be. Meyers, who’s made such enjoyable films as Something’s Gotta Give and It’s Complicated, nicely avoids melodrama even in scenarios where the script could’ve easily gone down that route. Instead she chooses to stage mature conversations between her characters that feel refreshingly honest.
Not everything’s perfect though. A mid-film sequence, in which Ben and the boys from work break into Jules’ mother’s home, is played for laughs, but it sticks out sorely as if it belonged in a different film. And there’s a little too much manipulative weepy-weepy in the second hour that makes you cringe.
But these are minor nigglings in a film that otherwise left me feeling all warm and fuzzy, and also hopeful that more writers would similarly reinvent the traditional rom-com format. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for The Intern. I was surprised how much I enjoyed this film.
Rating: 3.5 / 5