Dir: Nancy Meyers
Cast: Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway, Adam DeVine and Rene Russo
Runtime: 112 minutes
Release date: October 2nd
‘Freud once said, “Work and love, that’s all there is.” But I’m retired and my wife is dead.’ This nicely blunt exposition is delivered by Ben Whittaker (De Niro), in a video resume he submits to About the Fit, a bustling online fashion start-up which is recruiting ‘senior interns.’ When he is successful he is assigned to assist the company’s busy founder, Jules Ostin (Hathaway), who initially resists the idea, but Ben’s work ethic, decades of experience and earnest, straight-talking manner ultimately win over the entire office, as well as Jules herself.
The Intern is, typically for Meyers, stylish and well-put together. It’s also quite funny, although the humour here is gentle, and heavily reliant on Ben’s seniority and maturity in the context of a young workplace. Yet the film occasionally surprises, with one absurd response to a problem revealed to be not just the joke, but a set-up for an even more ludicrous, manic boondoggle that serves as the film’s comic highlight.
Ben and Jules’ relationship is also of note. Neither familial or sexual, and never quite as professional as the set-up of ‘boss-intern’ should be, theirs is a gradually-built advisory alliance seen all too rarely on screen. There are also pale echoes of Lost in Translation in one hotel room scene where the two discuss the difficulties of marriage, but a different dynamic prevails. The closest approximation I can make is, oddly, to Ser Barristan and Daenarys in Game of Thrones; a faithful, experienced adviser who wants to see his boss succeed through her own efforts and the support of those around her.
Honestly, this can tend towards the patronising – the explicit message of this film is ‘listen to the old white guy and everything will be fine’, while Ben literally precedes one morsel of advice with ‘I hate to be the feminist here, but…’ However the moments in which Ben is advising others, particularly in one biting encounter with some jealous mothers at a birthday party Jules’ daughter is attending, convincingly communicate the respect and empathy he has for his boss. A lot of this is likely down to De Niro being able to phone anything in, even sincerity. Hathaway is strong too, although there is a missed opportunity for a role-reversal after she was so famously put-upon by a fashion boss in The Devil Wears Prada. As a fashion boss in The Intern, Jules’ dominance is built on being ‘just one of the guys,’ rather than a terrifying glacial overlord. Perhaps this is a kinder, gentler progression in the genre – but Anne-gry Hathaway might have been fun.
Aside from Hathaway and DeNiro, there is a talented supporting cast here which is only superficially used. Half of the cast of Workaholics is here (Adam DeVine and Anders Holm), along with relative newcomers Jason Orley and Zack Pearlman, and while they hit their punchlines with glee, they are merely cyphers for ‘childish intern’ – with the exception of Holm, who is merely a cypher for ‘immature husband.’ Similarly, while a sparkling Rene Russo appears as a thankfully age-appropriate love interest for De Niro, her character development is reduced to exactly ‘ten seconds’ of summarising her life story on a funeral date (yes; they go on a date, to a funeral) and two incongruous scenes which play patronisingly to her sexuality.
There are also so many loose ends or hints that hint at further narrative importance but come off as lazy attempts at characterisation: Ben mentions a son with a family we never see; About the Fit staff Jason and Becky’s relationship is suggested but not fully worked out; Jules’ husband’s former career is referenced almost as an afterthought; and Jules’ terrible relationship with her mother remains unresolved, even after a near-miss with an angry email. And of course: will any of these interns get jobs?! That this question is addressed as more of a joke than a valid concern is a troubling cultural indicator.
The Intern doesn’t work hard enough to tie up all its loose ends or develop its secondary characters, and the resolution is much easier to swallow for Ben than for Jules, whose story feels unfinished. But it is light, easy fun with good performances from its leads and its charm might help it work its way up the ladder. We’ll be in touch, The Intern.