Film review: The Intern

David Gritten / 30 September 2015

A Hollywood take on surviving retirement with Robert De Niro.

I’m not going to make any claims that The Intern even begins to resemble a great film – but it’s a good-hearted one, with a generous  dose of charm and no little intelligence. And that in itself separates it from a host of soulless, mean-minded ‘comedies’ that  Hollywood studios routinely dump on the public these days.

It took me a while to warm up to The Intern, maybe because it is written and directed by Nancy Meyers, and some of her previous films – Something’s Gotta Give, The Holiday, It’s Complicated – have simply grated on me. In Ms. Meyers’ female-friendly world, considerable wealth is taken for granted -- and many of her characters, while blessed with good fortune, tend to whine incessantly about what we might call ‘first world problems.’ Having said that, Ms. Meyers’ films are hugely successful; I suspect I’m not the target audience.

Bored with retirement 

In The Intern, Anne Hathaway plays Jules, the hyper-energetic, workaholic (and rich!) founder and boss of a newish online fashion retail company that has become an instant success. Robert de Niro is Ben, a 70 year old widower bored with retirement, who gets a job at the company, staffed mostly with thrusting young people, as a ‘senior intern.’ He sticks out like a sore thumb, and Hathaway, run off her feet by work demands, isn’t even sure she has the time for him she assumes she’ll require to justify keeping him around. 

But wouldn’t you know it, Ben’s understated wisdom and good sense endear him to the kids in the office. He happily performs the most menial, mundane tasks, and slowly works his ways into Jules’s esteem. He becomes her sounding board, her unofficial advisor on work matters and family problems – she spends such long days at the office, she doesn’t see enough of her husband and young daughter.

Solid common sense

I gather we’re meant to sympathise with Jules, a plucky, determined woman trying her darnedest to Have It All. Nancy Meyers may view her creation in that light, but it’s also possible to regard Jules as unbearable – short in attention span, capricious, oblivious to her employees’ sensitivities: an exhaustingly demanding (if clever) boss.

Hathaway’s wild-eyed stare does much to reinforce that latter view – and yet as the story progresses, and she’s increasingly beguiled by Ben’s solid common sense, Jules lightens up a little too. And in fairness Hathaway puts a lot of work into this spiky character.  

Read our interview with The Intern's writer Nancy Meyers here 

A secret weapon

You may have guessed by now that there’s a secret weapon in this movie, and its name is Robert de Niro. He plays Ben with such self-contained elegance, not to mention easy, relaxed charm -- and even though this role is well within his considerable reach, he’s a complete pleasure to watch. Ben (who insists on coming to work in a suit and tie) also becomes an object of fascination for the young male employees in the office – a naive, unsure bunch, boy-men with terrible dress sense but kind hearts.

A twinkly romance 

There’s a minor element in the story that regrettably feels underplayed; Ben starts up a twinkly romance with the one older woman in the office, Fiona the corporate masseuse who comes around offering relaxing back rubs to stressed-out employees. She’s played by Rene Russo, an actress with an uncanny power to make her leading men seem more impressive than they are. She doesn’t need to work that trick with de Niro, but here they constitute a mature, funny, hugely likable couple. There’s a funny scene in which Hathaway faces down the boyish young scruffs working for her and demands: “How in one generation have guys gone from Jack Nicholson and Harrison Ford to.....this?” I like to think that in an earlier version of the script, before de Niro got cast, his name was invoked alongside the other two stars. As Ben, he’s a fine ambassador for the male gender at its kindest, most thoughtful and restrained. And as a bonus he makes The Intern agreeable viewing.  

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