By Chaz Lipp
In The Intern, Robert De Niro stars as 70-year-old intern Ben Whittaker. A lonely, bored widower, Ben answers the call when About the Fit, an online clothing retailer, announces a “senior citizen internship” program. So begins an entertaining, if ultimately slight, story about re-claiming a sense of purpose in one’s life. About the Fit’s founder and micro-managing CEO Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway) wants nothing to do with the aged interns. The program is just an obligation to a community outreach program. When Ben is assigned to her, she practically ignores him – initially, at least. Ben slowly wins her over by his willingness to stay busy, even when it means stooping to the level of grunt work, like organizing a cluttered desk that has become an office eyesore.
Writer-director Nancy Meyers (It’s Complicated, The Holiday, What Women Want) coasts along on sitcom cuteness. The Intern is built around very low ambitions, intended as a light crowd-pleaser. In that regard it mostly succeeds. De Niro and Hathaway are believable in their transition from stand-offish (on her part) to a reaching a deep mutual respect. Ben has four decades of management experience. He recognizes Jules’ drive and knows just the right ways to encourage her without overstepping his bounds. She’s been stressed over the probability of bringing in an outsider to run the company, as About the Fit has grown so quickly she never sees her family.
That’s where Meyers falters. While Ben’s story, including a blossoming relationship with the office masseuse Fiona (Rene Russo, underused), is never less than pleasant (even when it leans too heavily on corny generation-gap humor). Jules’ home life is handled less deftly, specifically her marital problems with husband Matt (Anders Holm). As written, stay-at-home-dad Matt is as thin as a Saturday Night Live sketch character. Other relationships are bungled even more thoroughly. Jules is on the outs with her mother, too. When she accidentally sends a bitterly negative “my mom is such a b****” email to her mom, the ensuing caper is funny enough but the whole issue with her mother goes completely unresolved.
Without venturing into spoiler territory, suffice it to say Meyers chooses to end The Intern on a note of ambiguity. While that can work well for certain types of films, a broad crowd-pleasing like The Intern would’ve been better served by a definitive conclusion. De Niro and Hathaway generally underplay to winning effect, making it worth the time. But at a leisurely 121 minutes, The Intern ends up feeling simultaneously like too much and not quite enough.
The Intern – Images Courtesy of: Warner Bros.