Robert De Niro is one of the most dynamic and intense actors of his generation and he has appeared in classics like The Godfather Part II, Raging Bull and Taxi Driver. Thirty years ago the thought of De Niro playing the lead in a lightweight romantic comedy would have been anathema, but as he is now over 70 he seems to slip comfortably into these sorts of roles. And he is certainly one of the best things about The Intern, the new comedy from writer/director Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, It’s Complicated, etc).
De Niro plays Ben Whittaker, a 70-year-old widower who is bored with retirement and enthusiastically re-enters the work forced via a senior internship program offered by About The Fit, a dotcom online clothing fashion site run by Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway, from Les Miserables). Ben seems like the poster boy for our former Treasurer who wanted people to continue in the work force until they were 70. He is an analogue man in a digital world, but he still has a thing or two to teach Jules and her eager young staff.
Initially Ben is given little to do in the office, but he is observant, organised and soon proves indispensable. He soon becomes Jules’ personal assistant and chauffeur. And his mature presence adds stability to Jules, both in the office and in her troubled personal life. A gradual air of mutual respect and a strong bond eventually develops between the pair.
Jules may be a tech-savvy business woman who has seen her company grow, but she is a bit ditzy and preoccupied. She rides a pushbike around the open plan office. A workaholic her relationship with her stay at home husband (Anders Holm) has become a little strained. And the board of the company is pushing her to find a CEO to help share the workload.
The role of Ben plays to De Niro’s strengths and he gets to show a more sympathetic, melancholy and sensitive side to his onscreen persona, and he adds a touch of gravitas to the material. He has an understated and gruff charm, but he also shows some great comic timing and a willingness to occasionally send up his own screen image. There is one scene in which he practices blinking in front of a mirror that seems like a parody of a famous scene from Taxi Driver.
Hathaway is one of the most beautiful screen actresses and she has an engaging presence as the quirky Jules. And De Niro and Hathaway share a wonderful chemistry that enlivens the formulaic material.
Rene Russo (from the Lethal Weapon series) pops up in a small role as Fiona, a masseuse who works at Jules’ company, and her character mainly provides a fairly predictable character arc and offers the widowed Ben with a second chance at romance and happiness. As warm and welcome as Russo’s presence is though her role is relatively small and thankless. Her couple of scenes could easily have been cut without affecting the overall narrative.
The Intern is a genial enough crowd pleaser and will no doubt win over its target audience. Meyers tries to explore concepts of ageism and sexism in the workplace here, themes that will seem familiar to audiences who remember Working Girl and 1997s Baby Boom, which she wrote and explored the challenges faced by a working mother in the workplace.
But like most of Meyer’s romantic comedies The Intern is a little mawkish and a little too long for what it has to say with an overly generous running time of 122 minutes. There is some padding here, including a scene in which Ben and three colleagues break into a house to delete a vicious email Jules inadvertently sends. While it adds some physical comedy and allows for some self-referential humour it is hardly essential and adds little to the film.
Nonetheless, this is one of Meyer’s better efforts in recent years. And most of its charm is due to the unlikely but winning pairing of De Niro and Hathaway.
Director: Nancy Meyers
Cast: Anne Hathaway, Robert De Niro, Adam DeVine
Release Date: 1 October, 2015
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television