Director: Nancy Meyers
Cast: Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway, Rene Russo, Anders Holm, Andrew Rannells, Adam DeVine, Celia Weston, Nat Wolff, Linda Lavin, Zack Pearlman
Runtime: 2 hrs 1 min
Rating: PG13 (Some Coarse Language)
Released By: Warner Bros
Official Website: http://www.theinternmovie.com
Opening Day: 24 September 2015
Synopsis: In “The Intern,” De Niro stars as Ben Whittaker, a 70-year-old widower who has discovered that retirement isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Seizing an opportunity to get back in the game, he becomes a senior intern at an online fashion site, founded and run by Jules Ostin (Hathaway).
As far as onscreen pairings go, ‘The Intern’ boasts probably one of the most interesting ones in recent memory. On one hand is Robert De Niro’s 70-year-old Ben Whittaker, a former vice-president in a now defunct phonebook printing company who has lost his wife to cancer and is presently struggling to deal with the concept of retirement; on the other is Anne Hathaway’s 32-year-old Jules Ostin, the founder and CEO of a tremendously successful fashion-based e-commerce company called ‘About the Fit’ or ‘ATF’ for short’ who is presently struggling to deal with the demands of her investors to find a CEO while not neglecting her six-year-old daughter and stay-home husband. Diametrically opposite as they may be, writer/ director Nancy Meyers wants to prove that these two individuals can have much more to learn from each other than you and I can imagine.
So through a community outreach programme which one of her company’s executives hatched, Ben finds his away into ATF as a senior intern after impressing some of the much younger employees with his warm sense of humour, his cheery can-do demeanour and proving least likely among his competition to drop dead while on the job (yes, we mean this literally). Despite Jules’ initial chagrin, that same executive assigns Ben directly to Jules in order to set an example for the rest of the employees in the company. And as the trailers would have you know, Ben will slowly but surely overcome her reservations with a keen sensitive eye and an unerring professionalism, eventually becoming not just a calming ear amidst the day to day chaos at the workplace but also an invaluable source of advice for her professional and personal woes.
Just so you know, De Niro and Hathaway do not eventually fall in love with each other, so you can rest easy if you’re wondering or worried if things would eventually get weird or awkward between them; and to put that at rest, Meyers finds De Niro a romantic interest in Rene Russo’s in-house massage therapist Fiona and occupies Hathaway with the discovery that her husband (Anders Holm) has been cheating on her with the stay-home mother of her daughter’s schoolmate. It is also in the latter where De Niro will come most prominently to play counsellor and confidante, nudging her not to blame her workaholic tendencies for her husband’s infidelity. Oh yes, there is a message of empowerment and encouragement for all career mothers within – and a slap on the face if you will have it for their other halves who use that as an excuse to commit adultery.
In keeping with her recent movies, Meyers has eschewed male-dominated Hollywood stereotype by fashioning Jules as a strong, opinionated and successful female individual who can be a hands-on CEO to over 220 employees at her company while being a dedicated mother and loving wife. Her response to her husband’s infidelity isn’t to fall in love with a fellow co-worker or to divorce him immediately; rather, she wants to give him a second chance, believing that a re-affirmation of their mutual love for each other will convince him to end his affair once and for all. You may disagree – as Ben does – with whether she is being naïve, but hey it’s undeniably still a strong gutsy move for a woman to put aside her pride and her hurt to offer forgiveness and to choose to stay together.
Meyers also has yet another intention here, and that is to quash ageism at the workplace. It isn’t just coincidence that the company Ben joins is in the Internet business; as incongruous as his presence may be in an industry that arguably does not appeal to his age demographic, Meyers wants to let the young upstart CEOs of today’s tech companies know that – as the tagline goes – experience never gets old and that there is something that the Gen-Y leaders can learn from their Gen-X counterparts. You can almost hear Meyers’ own lament through Jules that the men of today are a far cry from the likes of Jack Nicholson and Harrison Ford, and that just as Jules does, we will find something to learn from the silver-haired members of our workforce.
Both are equally poignant lessons, but perhaps not so wieldy in the same movie. Meyers tries to convey the latter first, and does so quite persuasively through a mixture of situational comedy and punchlines that are gently amusing but never by way of caricature – indeed, the closest she comes to farce is an ‘Oceans’ Eleven’ like ‘heist’ led by Ben to break into Jules’ mother’s house and delete an email that Jules had accidentally sent to her mother. The first hour of the movie cruises by like a breeze, in large part as well thanks to De Niro’s spot-on comic timing that he hasn’t lost since the last sequel of ‘Meet the Parents’. There is also much delight to be had watching De Niro and Hathaway break the ice between their respective characters, their dynamic sincere, heartfelt and genuinely affable.
Unfortunately, Meyers doesn’t quite do the former as well, and the latter half of the movie sags as a result of a more melodramatic change in tone and pace. Not to trivialise women in similar predicaments, but it isn’t quite so convincing just why Jules’ husband would cheat on her in the first place and a tad too convenient how Ben comes to chance upon the fact which ends up putting him in a moral quandary. Shifting the focus from Ben and Jules to Jules and her cheating husband also makes for a duller movie, particularly because it was the dynamic between De Niro and Hathaway that made the first half such a pleasant charmer in the first place. It also makes Ben less a fully-formed character, especially since his romance with Fiona gets short shrift once Jules’ marriage woes take prominence.
And though Meyers’ screenplay could do with some work, it is the sheer effervescent chemistry between De Niro and Hathaway that keeps the movie afloat. Both are equally lovely in their respective roles, and the strength of their performances is enough to make you forgive the fact that their characters are probably too good-natured to be true. Ultimately though, Meyers’ choice to put in a reassuring word of empowerment for career-oriented females proves to be her own undoing, not least in an ending that is limp and underwhelming. Yes, ‘The Intern’ works best when it is a two-hander between its unlikely onscreen pairing, and fizzles out especially in the last third once it decides to make three a crowd.
(De Niro and Hathaway's chemistry make their unusual onscreen pairing a sheer delight, but Nancy Meyers’ distracted screenplay in the second hour undercuts an otherwise genuinely entertaining start)
Review by Gabriel Chong