Nicely acted by Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro, the artificial sweetener titled “The Intern” has its bright spots but is practically blinded by its own privileged perspective of life among the landed gentry of Brooklyn.
It’s not fair to single out the writer-director, Nancy Meyers, whose better work includes “Something’s Gotta Give” and “It’s Complicated,” for making high-end escapist fantasies about a certain socioeconomic strata. Most Hollywood products work the same way. But this is a particularly frustrating case, because Meyers’ latest has many good lines, and good laughs, and even entire good scenes.
Since his wife’s passing, retiree Ben Whittaker, played by De Niro, has lived a pleasantly routinized life alone for three years. Hired as a senior intern at a JackThreads-type online clothing company, he’s assigned to the bustling startup’s founder and honcho, Jules Ostin, played by Hathaway in perpetual “go” mode. Jules tools around her company’s fabulous gut-rehab warehouse on a bicycle and never remembers to eat.
At first Jules has no use for Ben, who sports the sole suit and tie amid a sea of unshaven chins and untucked shirts. Scene by scene, the boss comes to realize how much wisdom, experience, advice and class this man has to offer, although a good deal of his internship is spent chauffeuring Jules from her mouthwatering Park Slope brownstone to work and back again. These scenes, with Jules frantically working her iPhone, suggest an alternate title: “Driving Miss Texty.”
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Surprisingly, the biggest, broadest comic interlude clicks: a secret mission, conducted by Ben and his fellow (and much younger) co-workers, to retrieve a laptop from Jules’ parents’ house. In her best dialogue about the stresses of work/life balance, Meyers suggests a measure of ambivalence and complication in its treatment of Jules, although on the surface she’s just another type-A workaholic out of a rom-com.
The rom in “The Intern” is fraught for Jules; her marriage to an apparently genial, supportive husband (Anders Holm, duller than his material, even) suffers from issues undetected by their grade-school daughter (JoJo Kushner). For Ben, the rom’s provided by the clothing company’s staff masseuse, played by Rene Russo. While Jules wrestles with a decision to hire a CEO, Ben is there, always, guiding her way.
Different movies stoke different, raging class issues in different people. Preston Sturges created confectionary treats (some of the tastiest ever in cinema) celebrating the joys of high living while remaining witty about the excess. Meyers has wit and a solid sense of craft, but mainly she makes movies about high thread counts and comfy, pricey throw pillows. There’s not much at stake for Ben; judging from the size and furnishings of his bedroom closet, this longtime phone book company executive is living a supremely comfortable retirement. Jules learns to be a less judgy, more nurturing leader and friend.
Hathaway and De Niro are easy company, though there are times when De Niro mugging in close-up seems no better an idea here than it did in “Little Fockers.” Both actors suggest inner lives for their characters, even though the film itself is more of an outie – a collection of looks, and smiles, and attractive surfaces.
As for composer Theodore Shapiro’s musical score … it’s awful. Pushy, insistent, it slathers every exchange, each new Meyers montage (the one on the plane may be the least necessary montage in montage history) with fake good cheer. Less is more with some composers; with this score, I wonder if “none” would’ve been the better option.
Cast: Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway, Rene Russo, Anders Holm and JoJo Kushner
Director: Nancy Meyers
Rated PG-13 (for some suggestive content and brief strong language)