Stale, safe and manipulative, ‘The Intern’ is the cinematic equivalent of an exhausted sigh from a collection of filmmakers and actors who just don’t seem to care about what they’re doing. It’s a movie that exists based on a lazy pitch that probably went something like this: “What if an old guy was an intern at an office full of young folks? Wouldn’t that be silly?! That is obviously until everyone learns some very important life lessons.” Somehow the final movie is even worse than it sounds.
Formerly great actor Robert De Niro stars as a 70-year-old widower named Ben who is comfortably retired in a beautiful Manhattan brownstone, but is bored with his lavish existence. He’s tried every conceivable hobby and none of them stuck, so he decides to take part in a senior (as in citizen) intern program at a up and coming online clothing store. The business is run by Anne Hathaway’s quirky type-A go-getter Jules, who rides a bike around her office so that she can do everything from answering customer service calls to making important corporate decisions. She’s also a mom with a stay-at-home husband (Anders Holm) and just can’t get that whole work/life balance right!
At first, Jules is sceptical of being assigned the grey-haired Ben as her personal intern, and assumes that there’s no way he could possibly understand what she does. The other young folks at the office are also put off by his briefcase and suit and overtly professional demeanor. How could gramps possibly fit into such a hip establishment with lax dress codes and Apple computers and stuff? Well, since Ben is a former success in business and a good guy and an almost magical sage-like creature who offers just the right advice at just the right time, it turns out that he might fit in just great. In fact, the guy might even make everything better for everyone.
Yes, the movie is that silly. In fact, it’s even cornier in execution than it already seemed from the trailer. There’s not a moment when any of these people feel like human beings who could exist in reality. They’re all awkward character types crammed into overly familiar formulas with no breathing room allowed. The setting is a fantasy New York where everyone drives a luxury sedan through light traffic – a magical place where everyone is impossibly kind, and if they’re not, it’s only because they haven’t met Ben yet. He’ll tell them how to be perfect in a matter of seconds.
Yes, this is one of those absurd Hollywood moral fantasies that went out of style somewhere in the 1960s, but that writer/director Nancy Myers is more than happy to trot out every few years in order to give some aging movie star a paycheck. The saddest part is watching the two leads suffer through this thing. De Niro tries to add some sort of awkward quirk to his elderly Mr. Perfect, but it’s a fruitless task. At a certain point, you can tell that he’s just coasting. While it’s hard to pinpoint any particularly poorly acted scenes (it is De Niro after all), for a performer of his immense talent to waste his time at all with this sort of schmaltz feels embarrassing. It’s sad to think that his career has been reduced to this brand of harmless light comedy. Sure, it was an amusing novelty to see him in these things at first, but at this point the joke is on us.
As for Hathaway, somehow this is her first lead role (unless you count ‘Interstellar’) since winning an Oscar, which is a particularly sad state of affairs. Isn’t getting one of those statues supposed to land you better roles rather than worse ones? Again, she’s fine given what she’s been asked to do. The only question is why she has to do this sort of disposable fluff anymore? Now, some might suggest that she’s at least gotten a mainstream Hollywood movie made about a strong independent woman, but even that sentiment feels misplaced given that the story is about a successful woman who needs an old man to come in and tell her how to continue her success. Is that really a story that needs to be told? Not really.