Nancy Meyers’ The Intern is the director’s latest entry into her seniors-in-existential-turmoil line, this time focusing on a restless retiree and widower assuming the titular role at a successful E-Commerce clothing retailer. Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) is the quintessential self-starter: relentlessly motivated, a willingness and capacity to learn and entirely adaptable. When he’s paired with none other than website founder Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway), the young woman’s comparable but untamed drive becomes something he’s determined to wrangle. Over time the two form an unlikely bond that proves mutually beneficial as Jules’ livelihood begins to hang in the balance.
I’ve always been at odds with the saccharine sensibilities of big studio comedies. Broad comedy often detracts from the incisiveness of whatever’s not an out-and-out romantic comedy or family drama, and in the case of The Intern, this quirk is more apparent than ever. Whether it’s the crass generalization of Brooklyn hipster culture or requisite geriatric jabs, Meyers’ script leans a bit too much on its weakest suit.
Where the film flounders it makes up for with a slightly unconventional and endearing narrative. The obviousness of the cross-generational wisdom imparted by Ben is forgivable thanks to how likable he is as a character, and his unfailing resourcefulness paints him as something of an entry level corporate superhero. He unfailingly plays yin to Jules’ yang a bit too tidily but is nonetheless commendable for it throughout subplots of vastly varying quality.
The Intern is the rare exception to my unspoken rule regarding films of a similarly innocuous ilk, thanks largely to charismatic leads and mostly effective emotionality. Its comedic strokes fall flat on account of sheer uninventiveness – literal heist sequence excluded – but the film doesn’t entirely fail in procuring a laugh throughout Ben and Jules’ burgeoning friendship and the bumps they hit on the road to self-betterment. It’s both familiar and subtly subversive as it explores its insular existential quandaries with poise and sensitivity, despite being rendered inherently unremarkable.