The Intern (2015)

Experience never gets old.

70-year-old widower Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) has discovered that retirement ‘is not all it’s cracked up to be.’ While Ben seems to enjoy the recreational perks of giving up work, such as taking up Tai Chi, playing golf and a whole lot of R&R, he longs to be back in the world of hustle and bustle. You see, Ben isn’t overly ambitious; he just misses having a place to go and is simply looking to be a part of something ‘bigger’ again.

Seizing an opportunity to get back to work, Ben submits an online video application to an internet-based start-up fashion site, a booming e-commerce company situated in Brooklyn named About The Fit (ATF for short). As luck would have it, Ben is successful in his application and lands himself a senior ‘internship’ position, responding directly to the company’s hands-on founder, career-driven Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway), who happens to be ‘not so great with old people.’ As it turns out, when Jules agreed to have ‘senior interns’ join the business, she assumed that meant ‘seniors in college, not seniors in life.’

What initially begins as resistance on Jules’ part soon gives way, especially after Ben takes on the job of being Jules’ chauffeur, with the pair’s relationship turning into one of mutual respect, appreciation, and genuine friendship. As the sharply dressed Ben — an early Baby Boomer — grows in his newfound position, he teaches Jules, and his ATF team of young techie colleagues — who don’t have very good people skills at all — the value of experience, bringing a human touch, along with a dash of chivalry, to a tech savvy band of millennials, the latest generation to enter the workforce.

The Academy reassesses Robert De Niro's recent abilities as an actor.
The Academy reassesses Robert De Niro’s recent abilities as an actor.

Written and directed by Oscar-nominated, award-winning filmmaker Nancy Meyers, Something’s Gotta Give (2003) — who’s celebrated for her humorous, poignant and earnest pictures — The Intern plays out like a typical Meyers serving; featuring her signature frothy playfulness, homogeneous heart-warming nature and that irresistible chic charm, combined with Meyers’ trademark visual flair, including those oh-so-luxurious interiors and stylish costumes which she’s somewhat known to ‘fuss over.’

Meyers’ films have, in the past, explored romantic relationships in an honest and heartfelt way — from courtship, to marriage, to divorce, and everything that comes before, in between and even after — but her latest feel-good comedy takes a slightly different route. While friendship was always quite prominent in Meyers’ previous feats, it really takes center stage here, as The Intern is a story about two unlikely friends whose paths mightn’t otherwise have crossed, if not for this singular and rare opportunity. Hence, The Intern is not a ‘love story’ in the traditional sense, as it focuses on the importance of companionship, whilst simultaneously addressing contemporary topics such as women in the workforce, retirement crisis and remaining relevant in the face of solitude, all done with a mirthful comic twist.

The Intern is also a cross-generational comedy of sorts as two age groups collide in this anything-is-possible playground. Ms. Meyers can clearly see the humor in Ben’s fish-out-of-water, culture shock scenario and genuinely has a lot of fun with the rich material on offer, chiefly as Ben — a former phonebook manufacturer executive — enters this virtually paperless world, where Tweeting has replaced talking, emoticons have overtaken real ‘emoting’ and casual clothes day at work is not exclusively held on Fridays; it’s now everyday. This droll age versus youth milieu supplies much of the flick’s laughs, conveyed with precision dialogue and snappy timing by the film’s colorful and able cast.

This smile, brought to you by Apple.
This smile, brought to you by Apple.

No stranger to comedy, Robert De Niro has long been celebrated for his tremendous depth and range as an actor, though in the past, much of his comic performances have been played out as caricature versions of the stereotypical gangster or tough guy. In The Intern however, the seasoned star slips into a different kind of suit — one that’s usually made of wool and comes with a matching shirt and tie — allowing Bob to express himself more delicately as so much emotion and wit comes across with just a simple glance, nod or even a silly old-man grin. De Niro’s amiable nuances really shine through here and bring about some of the flick’s funnier moments. De Niro’s Ben is a terrific guy, he’s kind of a Mr. Fix-it to everyone he meets; he’s confident and has plenty of parental competence which is constantly sought after by his co-workers — characters turn to Ben for assistance, wisdom, inspiration, counseling and even a place to stay; he’s that much of a swell guy. Let’s put it this way, De Niro is much more relaxed playing the quaint Ben Whittaker than say, boxer Jake La Motta from Raging Bull (1980), with his vein-popping intensity.

Sharing palpable chemistry with her co-star — and an authentic on-screen bond as friends — the always lovely Anne Hathaway, The Devil Wears Prada (2006), seems to be an ideal choice to play ATF head, nonconformist workaholic Jules Ostin, who’s clearly a product of a generation known to make snap decisions. Often seen riding a bike through the office, Jules is incredibly smart, switched-on and has an amazing heart, qualities that Hathaway brings to the part with natural ease; where De Niro supplies much of the film’s laughs, Hathaway gives it its heart. In Jules, Ms. Meyers has eschewed male-dominated Hollywood stereotypes by fashioning a female character that’s opinionated, career-driven and highly successful, an active CEO to over two-hundred employees while being a dedicated mother and loving wife — though she’s always running chronically late to meetings, amongst other misdemeanors.

While Meyers’ screenplay could certainly do with some trimming and tightening, it’s the vivacious chemistry between De Niro and Hathaway that really keeps The Intern afloat, as their dynamic is honest, warm and truly affable. Both are equally pleasant and down-to-earth in their respective roles, and the strength of their performances alone is enough to make one forgive the fact that these characters are probably too good-natured to really exist out in the big bad world.

There's no such thing as 'too much coffee!'
There’s no such thing as ‘too much coffee!’

The film’s support cast is equally as game, particularly a threesome that functions a bit like a Judd Apatow rat-pack — think Seth Rogen, Michael Cera and Jonah Hill. Adam DeVine, Pitch Perfect (2012), is quite amusing as Jason, the ATF staffer in charge of interns; newcomer Jason Orley plays tech-savvy trainee Lewis; while Zack Pearlman, The Virginity Hit (2010), appears as another intern, named Davis, who begins work on the very same day as Ben, though Davis is clearly half Ben’s age. A ‘heist’ scene involving this new-age trio, led by mastermind Ben, which sees the cluster break into Jules’ Mother’s (Mary Kay Place) home to help Jules avoid a personal crisis will really bring the house down, while the slapdash hoodies, baggy Tees and hipster facial hair of these Gen-Xers may signify that traditional masculinity is in some sort of a crisis; if it’s shlumps like these who run the world, or at least the business world, oh boy might we all be in trouble.

Closer to De Niro’s age, ATF’s in-house masseuse, Fiona, played by Rene Russo, Nightcrawler (2014), gives Ben the meaning — and romantic interest — he longs for within his private life, in the same way his new occupation gives him purpose and stability — she’s perhaps the first woman Ben’s really shown an interest in since his wife’s passing — and while Russo does provide enough friskiness and good-humored seduction, Fiona is probably a character the film could have easily done without.

Lastly, Anders Holm, Top Five (2014), portrays Jules’ ‘too-good-to-be-true’ husband, Matt, who’s voluntarily become a stay-at-home dad to their young daughter, Paige, played by JoJo Kushner in her feature screen debut, with these second tier characters showcasing how Jules — functioning in a present-day family — attempts to balance her work and private life; though viewers promptly discover that there’s more instability, on both fronts, over any sort of balance.

Robert De Niro finally gets a decent script.
Robert De Niro finally gets a decent script.

With all the hallmarks of a Nancy Meyers’ film, including a lengthy runtime (with the flick clocking in at just over 2 hours) as well as slickly crafted, ready-made for Pinterest outfits, furnishings and fixtures, The Intern is a sweet story with sincere heart, boosted by its wonderful cast, mainly De Niro and Hathaway, who are fun to watch develop from colleagues to confidants, with an amity realized through mutual respect and platonic love; and while yes, the flick does drag at times, its duration doesn’t feel quite as taxing as some of Meyers’ previous efforts.

In the end, The Intern tells audiences that Gen-Y leaders can still learn from their Gen-X counterparts, and vice versa, in a side-splitting and entertaining way, suggesting that one is never too old to learn or never too ahead of the game to gain skills and knowledge from those who ushered before.

The film also makes a comment on our ‘passion’ and ‘drive’ as human beings — if you love doing something, keep doing it for as long as you can, as well as you can.

I know one thing’s for certain, after having watched The Intern; I’ll never leave home without my handkerchief, that’s for sure!

3.5 / 5 – Great

Reviewed by S-Littner

The Intern is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia