Movie review: ‘The Intern’: A formulaic comedy with a lot on its mind
Let us now praise, or at least tolerate, formulaic comedies.
In many ways, writer-director Nancy Meyers’ “The Intern” is exactly what you think it will be. A 70-year-old retired widower (Robert De Niro) signs on as an intern for a fast-rising online fashion retail site run by a hard-driving young entrepreneur (Anne Hathaway). Eventually, they become besties and she incorporates his wisdom into her personal and business life.
But Meyers — the auteur behind “Something’s Gotta Give” and “It’s Complicated,” among many others — manages to deal with some major issues while doling out comfortable comedic scenes and heartwarming assurances.
First off, she squarely faces the potential abyss of retirement that’s currently confronting tens of millions of Americans, the possible sense of empty uselessness, the loss of purpose and function.
Next she deals with the work/domestic life balance that modern women have to juggle, the struggle not to lean too far in one direction or another, how to be successful mom and wife and businesswoman.
Then, just to stir the pot a bit more, Meyers offers much commentary on the pitfalls of a post-feminist world in which masculinity has devolved into bro-ness, video games and constant casual wear as men try to figure out just how they’re supposed to act. She goes a bit too far here — men are supposed to carry handkerchiefs so they can lend them to the weeping women they will inevitably encounter — but it’s still a valid issue.
Which makes for quite a bit going on beneath what on the surface appears to be a light-hearted, feel-good piece of piffle.
De Niro plays Ben Whittaker, a retired business executive who’s done the traveling and visited the grandkids a few times too many and is now thoroughly bored in his Brooklyn home. One day he hears about a firm that wants to take on seniors as interns. He applies, he’s accepted.
He’s immediately taken aback by the open-floor, casual-appearing, but still buzzing culture of the online fashion firm, whose founder and CEO, Jules Ostin (Hathaway), rides a bicycle from one end of the office to the other to get to appointments on time. Ben finds himself assigned directly to Jules who, as you’d expect, initially avoids him.
But he doggedly hangs in there, becoming friends with some of the young hipsters toiling away. And when it turns out Jules needs a driver one day, Ben gets behind the wheel. Eventually, despite some hiccups, they bond and Ben ends up meeting Jules’ stay-at-home-dad husband, Matt (Anders Holm), and daughter, Paige (JoJo Kushner).
Ben, being the wise man figure here, ends up advising Jules on her big business dilemma: Should she hire a CEO to run the company so she can spend more time with her family. And he ends up advising her on more intimate issues, as well.
This being a Nancy Meyers film, Ben also needs some hint of romance, so here comes Rene Russo as the company’s full-time masseuse. Suddenly, work as a senior intern looks a whole lot better.
Along the way, there are escapades and punch lines, teary moments and goofy turns. It is, indeed, a formulaic comedy. But, in between the comic and sentimental bits, there are some actual thoughts and real-life situations, enough to certainly give pause before the easy laughs take over. “The Intern” may be predictable, but it’s far from empty.
Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and brief strong language
Running time: 121 minutes