Nancy Meyers has come a long way since Private Benjamin, Baby Boom, and Father of the Bride, but she hasn’t managed to recapture that perfect mix of charm and character depth in a while. The Intern comes closer than some of her other recent attempts, but for all that it delivers a fun, and somewhat unique journey, it struggles with the transitions and pacing.
Ben (Robert De Niro) is 70, and he’s struggling with what to do with himself. He’s retired, a widower, and too agile of body and mind to write off life just yet. With no real ideas on how to proceed, Ben’s attention is grabbed by a flyer offering opening for senior interns. Jules (Anne Hathaway) has an internet clothing company that she started 18 months ago, and it’s turned into a huge success. Hers is the company offering these internships, though she isn’t aware of the scheme until Ben is assigned to be her personal assistant… sort of.
It’s the best and worst of times for Jules, because she has no interest in an aging intern, but is struggling with the demands of her business, her investors, and isn’t quite in the greatest place when it comes to her life at home either.
Despite her reluctance, there’s something about the ever-cheery Ben that Jules can’t ignore, and they soon have a pseudo-father/daughter relationship that is both uncomfortable, and just what they both need. As Jules is forced to decide if she wants to hire a CEO to run the company that is growing too fast for her to control, and if she wants to make big changes in her personal life, having Ben around to ground her is the blessing she never knew she needed.
The film mixes in some lighter moments, and an out of place scene of office-related hijinx, but all other characters are ultimately minor distractions that don’t get very far, and often have their stories abandoned. Little about the film amounts to anything, unless it directly involves Ben and Jules, and as the sideline stories progress, it becomes clear that they aren’t given much thought. Beyond the fact that a company with one employee would make no sense, there’s no pull to anyone else, and they flit in and out of the picture almost at random.
It’s unfortunate that so much of the film seems to suffer from a lack of effort, because what works is so surprisingly good. It’s a strange face superimposed over fairly standard rom-com features, but De Niro shines in a role that makes it almost impossible to believe that there is anything impressive to do. Hathaway is solid, but has a hard time working perfection into a role that ends up at odds with itself, and the best things she does force her to do them next to De Niro, which is a tough job.
But, it’s mostly over-analysis that reveals the problems of the film. At some point that becomes fair, as the film makes odd, and pointless transitions – like, when in doubt, set off a fire alarm – and slows to a crawl in places, which leave you little to do apart from wonder why you’re watching what you are.
Few films manage to take an odd tale of very specific characters, and make you want to hang around with them (sometimes over and over), and while Nancy Meyers doesn’t always nail the theory, it’s always the theory she’s after. The best of Ben and Jules is a story you’d watch whenever it came on, just like you watch Baby Boom whenever you catch it, but Jules goes a curious direction at the end, and it may leave a bad taste in your mouth.
It all sounds horribly negative, but it’s only because it could have so easily been so much better, and when you get De Niro to give such an amazing performance, you want it to be part of the best possible effort. I can hardly imagine anyone who wouldn’t have a good time with this character showcase, but I can’t see how to be completely satisfied with the frequent plodding through unnecessary steps, or Jules’ ultimate acceptance and abandonment of herself as a story’s vision.
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CastAnne Hathaway, Robert De Niro, Rene Russo
Image CreditWarner Bros.
SynopsisIn “The Intern,” De Niro stars as Ben Whittaker, a 70-year-old widower who has discovered that retirement isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Seizing an opportunity to get back in the game, he becomes a senior intern at an online fashion site, founded and run by Jules Ostin (Hathaway).