The Intern reminds me most of Lost in Translation. It’s not a perfect comparison. The Intern isn’t going to win any Oscars. It has a completely different tone and there’s no real romantic undertones – it wisely avoids ever going that far. But it’s kind of beautiful in the same way that movie was beautiful over a decade ago… two people forming a deeply meaningful, if ultimately unconventional relationship.
The Intern follows the blueprint of a romantic comedy, insofar as it pretty much lives and dies on whether it can find two charming leads to take us through the proceedings. And it does, in Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway, though if you’d have told me beforehand that it was going to be De Niro doing the heavy lifting in that regard, at least in the early going, I don’t think I’d have believed you.But that’s just how it happens. Ben Whittaker (played by De Niro) is a widowed retiree who’s getting a bit bored. He’s traveled. He’s visited his family. He’s taken classes. That’s not to say he’s depressed, he’s actually a pretty positive guy – he just wants to have someplace to go every morning. When he picks up a flyer advertising internships for senior citizens at an online retailer, he jumps at the opportunity.
That’s the first of many very smart decision made by writer/director Nancy Meyers. She doesn’t take 25 minutes to work through a series of “hilarious” misunderstandings that leads Ben to take the job. She just knocks it out in the first 3 minutes. He’s bored, he wants to learn. Good, I’m on board. I’d hire him. And when Ben starts work, she wisely avoids the low hanging fruit. This isn’t a 2 hour movie based around one stale old-people-don’t-understand-Facebook joke (or the opposite what-have-these-young-people-done-to-the-workplace). She gets a few bits out of it, but for the most part Ben fits in pretty well. It’s no big deal. And frankly, you buy it, because Ben is great… in no small part because Robert De Niro is great.
And being so great, Ben is assigned to be the personal intern to Jules Osten (Anne Hathaway), who founded the company just over a year prior and is now a pretty big deal in The internet world. Her company is growing so quickly in fact that investors think she needs to hire on a more experienced CEO, who would essentially be her boss. She’s not a fan of that.
Jules takes some warming up to, or at least she did for me. At first glance, she seems like she’s just a collection of surface deep quirks. She gives customers her personal phone number. She rides a bike around the office. She puts her assistant through her paces. Essentially, she’s eccentric and hard to work with and she doesn’t really want a 70 year old intern hanging around her. You know, that character.
That first impression is fleeting though – Jules may take a bit longer to get to know than Ben, but she’s much deeper than her first 10 minutes would suggest. As easy as it was for her to come around to Ben, so too was it to come around to her. And that’s the magic of The Intern. Nancy Meyers creates two fantastically interesting characters, pairs them up, and then just rides their very charming relationship right off into the sunset. The plotting is minimal, which is to say the characters are always firmly in the driver’s seat. The story goes where they need it to go, which is smart, because it makes pretty much every tangent fair game.
At one point, Jules accidentally sends a cutting email to her mother, so Ben is tasked with stealing her mom’s computer so she doesn’t see it. It’s the sort of broad slapstick nonsense that’s usually just meant to kill time. Here it’s great. It’s funny. It’s fun. It’s just very watchable. And the same goes for the heavier moments as well… it’s all just very watchable. Two great characters. Two great performances. De Niro and Hathaway – who in expressing my surprise at how good De Niro was I may have inadvertently slighted (but she’s great as well) – could read the sports section together and there would be chemistry.
The script isn’t perfect. It falls victim to Hollywood’s obsession with overly precocious children. It can drag at times, though thankfully is pretty good at recognizing when that’s happening.
And in the relationship between these two, it’s clearly Jules who is getting the most out of it. Ben, keeping with his character, is pretty much happy to be along for the ride, which at times makes him feel like her Manic Pixie Old Guy.
But for the most part, The Intern is pretty clever. It doesn’t get bogged down with unnecessary subplots nor does it resort to silly, concocted misunderstandings or other forms of manufactured drama. It constantly zigs when you think it will zag and in those instances finds some truly touching moments. It’s a breath of fresh air.