Nancy Meyers makes romantic comedies for adults. She started directing in 1997 with The Parent Trap and in years since her films have grossed more than $1 billion dollars. Her films bear her mark like that of any auteur; though, her name doesn’t get mentioned as often as the Coens, Quentin Tarantino or Spike Lee. Her stories are long on love and work, but short when it comes to conflict. The Intern shakes up that formula by focusing less on love, and, instead, tells some truths about the 21st Century workplace.
After amassing a healthy sum of money to live off of; Ben (Robert DeNiro) realizes that retirement is not the gift he hoped it would be. 40 successful years in middle-management and his marriage defined him, now, that part of his life is over. Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway) runs a successful fashion company from Brooklyn that she built from the ground up. She’s finding out that About the Fit’s investors want her to select an older, male CEO to take the company forward. As Jules struggles to stay the hands-on owner, About the Fit hires senior interns to pass along accumulated career wisdom to their younger coworkers.
Ben immediately seizes the opportunity to get back to work and is paired with a very skeptical Jules. Meyers has a lot of fun bouncing Hathaway and DeNiro off each other and wisely avoids their relationship bordering on the antagonistic. In no time at all, Ben is solving all the problems present at About the Fit and finding a spark with the in-house masseuse Fiona (Rene Russo). Jules’ struggles to appease the board, while simultaneously keeping her daughter and stay-at-home husband happy are seemingly solved. Those who watched It’s Complicated and Something’s Gotta Give know this isn’t the case. The first hour of The Intern is remarkably light and a perfect recommendation to parents for a trip to the movies. Only discord marks the film’s second half.
The chemistry between Ben and Jules is lively, but Ben’s role as the confidant is bumped to the backseat as he plays the father figure later, offering marriage advice rather than helping her run the company. To Jules’ dismay, her husband (Anders Holm) doesn’t stay at home as much as she thinks. Fortunately, Meyers has the common sense not to blame Jules’ work priorities for her husband’s failings, so the message of empowerment isn’t undercut. Still, a few story elements needed trimming. Wince-worthy antics of Ben’s nerdier cohorts (Adam Devine and Zack Pearlman) would improve the film if left on the cutting room floor. Anne Hathaway does well in a transitional role that, hopefully, Hollywood won’t pigeonhole her in due to age.
A comedy without an edge isn’t always a bad thing, in fact, it is what Meyers’ customers pay to see. Yet it’s the mechanical development of the story that turns something watchable into merely predicting the next scene. Watching Robert DeNiro’s effort go wasted because of such laziness is irritating. DeNiro and Hathaway deserved a lot better for what they put into their respective roles. As appreciated as the opportunity for a 72-year-old lead comes, this story needed a little more substance and fewer antics.