What if Nancy Meyers – specialist of the genial, non-offensive crowd-pleasers ranging from It’s Complicated to Something’s Gotta Give -- took a stab at Lauren Weisberger’s caustic The Devil Wear’s Prada, filtering the competitive work-place comedy through her softened lens? Well, it would look an awful lot like The Intern, a charming, overly sweet and conventional comedy that has two bona-fide Movie Stars (capitalized for emphasis) doing plenty of heavy lifting to infuse soul into the formula. It works, mainly because Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway log overtime hours to make sure that it works.
The Prada comparison probably wasn’t intentional, but it repeatedly struck me during The Intern, with an enthusiastic newcomer proving to an overworked corporate overlord that there’s goodness in each of them. Casting Hathaway naturally strengthened the link between the comedies, with the versatile actress putting her own type-A translation on the finger-in-every-pot CEO part. So, who replaces eager Annie in this Prada equation? None other than Bobby De Niro, the aging bull who effortlessly assumes the gentle role of a Baby Boomer ill-equipped for retirement and seeking a legitimate corporate distraction during his golden years.
Ben Whitaker (De Niro) is a Brooklyn-based widower who’s too antsy to accept the reduced schedule that comes with old age. Seeking daily inspiration, Ben applies for an experimental internship at About The Fit, an on-the-rise fashion outlet run by innovative but overworked Jules Ostin (Hathaway). Jules balks at the idea of senior interns at first. But Ben’s such a welcome addition to the About The Fit team – bestowing hard-earned wisdom on the know-little twenty-somethings – that Jules eventually accepts him as a colleague and, later, a friend. Before the credits roll, Ben will have Mary Poppins-ed virtually everyone’s personal and professional lives, serving as the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine (and the movie’s formula) go down.
Make no mistake: The Intern never once deviates from its expected path. Let’s be real. The comedy is engineered, in every frame, to appeal to a specific audience – the kind that likes its laughs telegraphed, its obstacles easily surmounted, and its happy endings all but guaranteed. Every edge has been buffed. Every possible spice in Meyers’ screenplay has been diluted for mass consumption. Brooklyn looks like a polished postcard in the director’s beautifully-lit shots. And fashion start-up companies somehow can afford more office space than Apple… as well as an in-house masseuse. A masseuse!
At the same time, that’s OK. For the most part. The Intern predominantly delivers the movie you figured out that it would be from the two-minute trailer. Meyers’ movies tend to do that. And you can nitpick a movie like The Intern to death if you so choose. But why are you even here (or in the theater showing the latest Nancy Meyers joint) if you have the knives out, ready to attack? This wasn’t meant for you. Meyers, in her own way, understands what her audience is looking for in a two-hour big-screen escape, and she pushes the right buttons along her chosen path. Sometime, The Intern gets a little too slapsticky (a “heist” scene struck me as non-essential, but it played extremely well with our preview audience). And there’s a late-game conflict afflicting Jules that struck me as off-key and heavy-handed. But I’m hard-pressed to slap the wrist of a mainstream studio production that finds roles for the likes of Linda Lavin and Rene Russo – even if the one scene they share takes place at a funeral!
Ultimately, The Intern does enough right that it’s an easy recommendation to those who know what they are getting into. Hathaway and De Niro have good chemistry, playing out the pseudo father-daughter dynamic that Meyers writes between Ben and Jules. And the screenplay saves some of its best jabs for the generation gap that exists between Boomers and Millennials. Take your parents to see The Intern. It speaks directly to them. I mean that as a compliment.