The Intern appears to think that its main selling point is the generation gap between the young and the elderly, but it isn’t. Rather, its biggest asset is its heart which lends itself to establishing a surprisingly sweet and touching story that anchors itself on firmer ground than trailers would first indicate.
Written and directed by Academy Award nominee Nancy Meyers (It’s Complicated, Father of the Bride), the film follows 70-year-old widower Ben Whitaker (two-time Academy Award winner Robert De Niro; The Godfather: Part II, Silver Linings Playbook), who finds himself struggling with the monotony of retirement. Finally sick of not having anything to do during the day, he applies to a senior intern program, a newly formed initiative that places older workers as interns in companies. On his first day working at a fast-growing internet clothing retailer, Ben is assigned to be the personal intern of Jules Ostin (Academy Award winner Anne Hathaway; Les Miserables, The Dark Knight Rises),the founder and CEO.
Going along with it only to provide a good example for her employees, Jules initially avoids Ben as much as possible, but as time goes on the two become closer and Jules finds herself relying on him more and more as she struggles to deal with obstacles of both the personal and professional variety.
The Intern is a great movie, one that ingratiates itself with its audience quite quickly. Excellent character work is one of the film’s strong points, and both Ben and Jules prove themselves to be beautifully drawn individuals that are easy to empathise with. A huge part of this are the actors. Both De Niro and Hathaway turn in outstanding performances throughout the film, with the former proving himself perfectly capable of blending in with a cast that is, for the most part, an average of thirty to forty years his junior and the latter nailing both comedic and emotional beats with ease.
The chemistry between the pair is palpable, and as the film goes on, the two move into a complex dynamic that is equal parts father and daughter and best friends. The relationship makes the whole movie work and it’s brilliantly done, handled with class by two excellent performers.
The film also sports a fantastic script, one that blends heart with comedy in a way that few movies do anymore. It’s sweet but it’s also very amusing, dodging the most obvious pitfalls the premise presents and for the most part avoiding cliché. Sure, there’s the odd joke about Ben’s computer illiteracy, but the movie doesn’t dwell on it. Instead, it moves quickly to display the man’s talent in other areas and establishes him as a perfectly capable worker, not a doddering pensioner.
The picture’s examination of generational divides does decent work, though it rarely approaches territory that hasn’t been covered a million times before. Even so, the film handles these well trod paths with a quiet charm and an undercurrent of sly wit that keeps it from becoming generic. The contrast between the suit-wearing, briefcase-carrying, flip-phone wielding De Niro and the sloppily dressed, unshaven young men that surround him works best because it approaches both archetypes without a hint of mean-spiritedness. It uses Ben’s interactions with his much younger fellow interns to provide a good deal of humor.
The movie does suffer from a few flaws, though they rarely become especially glaring. It’s a little aimless in terms of plot, something that doesn’t effect it in the slightest to begin with, as the film makes do with a series of charming vignettes of Ben around the office with only the relationship between him and Jules providing an ongoing narrative thread. But as a result, the movie struggles to find a suitable conclusion. The script can’t really seem to find an exit point and when it does, it does so with little fanfare. Still, the conclusion is emotionally satisfying and in keeping with the movie’s heartfelt tone, so the effect isn’t as problematic as it could be.
There’s also an entirely extraneous subplot in which Ben woos another older employee, played by BAFTA Film Award nominee Renee Russo (Thor: The Dark World, Nightcrawler). It doesn’t work for multiple reasons: De Niro and Russo simply lack the required chemistry and their scenes take place separately from the rest of the film, away from the remainder of the cast. It separates the movie from its strengths and every time the subplot reared its head, it marked an almost instantaneous decrease in my interest level.
The Intern is a nice movie. That may sound like I’m damning it with faint praise but that’s not my intent at all. I loved the film because it was nice. It’s fun and it’s funny, but more crucially, it gives you that warm, fuzzy feeling that’s difficult to define. It’s a comfortable film with a huge heart, a great deal of soul and two exceptional lead actors.