'The Intern': The film is pleasant but has no big conflict
Robert De Niro stars in the movie as a retiree who becomes an intern at an online retail start-up, while Anne Hathaway is his younger boss.
The world of Nancy Meyers sure is beautiful.
But her studied production design and dreamy interiors have become such a focal point, that they've almost eclipsed her storytelling. It marginalizes what she does, and how she has, from "The Parent Trap" to "It's Complicated," created her own lovely and implausible cottage industry of movies that are, for the most part, exceedingly pleasant to watch.
She tells stories about divorce, affairs, and later life loves, using wit and humor that is somehow blue and sassy, but also innocent. Meyers is one of the more retro writer-directors working today.
"The Intern," her first film in six years, is a curious case, melding together those modern retro sensibilities in a way that even further distances her work from reality. This is not a love story, though. It's a workplace tale about a smiley, unflappable 70-year-old retiree Ben (Robert De Niro) who goes to intern for the 30-something CEO of an online retail startup.
With only the most polite issues peppering the plot, it's less a study of generational conflict and more of a series of loosely connected events about a guardian angel sent out of retirement to tell Anne Hathaway that she really can have it all.
Ben's adjustment to working with all these kids might be the hook, but Jules Ostin (Hathaway) is the centerpiece and heart of the movie. In the past year and a half, she has built an insanely successful clothing business from the ground up and is now juggling a kid, her relationship with her stay-at-home husband, and a board of directors who want to replace her with a more seasoned CEO.
She has her quirks. but Jules is neither the prototypical cutesy, clumsy comedy heroine nor the passionless executive who just needs to loosen up. In fact, Jules isn't a type at all. Hathaway plays her as serious, wise, playful, and insecure. Every time you think she might descend into caricature, Hathaway pulls back and grounds Jules.
Her unusually developed character has the somewhat adverse effect of exaggerating Ben's one-note, but charming simplicity. Ben spent his entire career at a factory that made phonebooks. He was married, now he's widowed, retired, and bored of it. De Niro plays him as so nice, and so cuddly that he's almost alien. He is the grandpa from "Up" without the edge, here to tell millennial men to stop dressing like little boys, to carry handkerchiefs because ladies cry, to stay at work until the boss leaves, and to talk to, not text, romantic prospects.
Beyond a flirtation with the office masseuse (Rene Russo), Ben has nowhere to grow. He's set in his perfectly PC retro-modern ways, just there to help everyone — especially Jules.
It's an odd relationship with few actual revelations. That's because there's no big conflict. Jules says she doesn't really like old people, and at one point worries that Ben knows too much about her, but those all dissolve without much ceremony.
There are of course some other issues that Jules and Ben must deal with, but even those are minor. Nothing is ever that wrong in the Meyers-verse. It might not be a life you recognize from reality, but is the one that we fantasize about thanks to magazines and movies like this.
It can be cloying at times, but the disconnected timelessness of it all is all the more reason for Meyers to keep doing her own thing as long as she can. She doesn't speak to what's trendy in filmmaking. Aside from the technology, "The Intern" could have just as easily existed in 1990.
Still, in keeping everything so polite, "The Intern," while being a pleasant and watchable movie, is also entirely ephemeral. Maybe that's why, like Meyers' other films, "The Intern" will likely be so re-watchable, too.