Poor David did not want to see this movie. He groused all day, except when he had to be quiet in our screening of "The Martian" about how bad the trailer looked, and the fact that he was dreading two hours of what appeared to be unfunny fluff. He should have known better because this was written and directed by Nancy Meyers.
Well, as usual, he was wrong. And despite whatever else you may read/hear, "The Intern" is a lovely, thoughtful film with a great cast, excepting Anders Holm, who plays Anne Hathaway's character's husband, Matt --- awful choice --- more on that later.
Jules Ostin's (Hathaway) on-line clothing company has become an overnight success, exacerbating the usual start-up problems. She is getting pressure from her second-in-command Cameron (Andrew Rannells) to consider hiring a CEO --- someone older with a lot of experience. Also, Cameron has instituted a new intern program for senior citizens.
Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) is a widower who worked for over 40 years at the same company in Brooklyn. After his wife died, he experienced many things: traveling, cooking, learning new languages, yoga, etc, and now he is bored and lonely. He applies via video for the intern position, gets hired and is immediately placed with Jules, much to her consternation.
But Ben wins Jules over when he cleans up the office "junk" table, and slowly works his way into her trust. He also becomes an invaluable addition to her household, run by Matt, a stay-at-home dad to their little girl Paige (JoJo Kushner).
Matt is also pushing Jules to find and hire a CEO for her company, a move she is simply not ready to make. A trip to San Francisco with Ben to interview one of the possible candidates cements their relationship/friendship.
Meyers has given us some wonderfully funny films, such as "Something's Gotta Give" and "It's Complicated". "The Intern" might not be her best work to date, but it is a touching poignant statement about the many things we can learn from our senior citizens.
And typical of Meyers, "The Intern" is not strictly a comedy, though it does possess quite a few laugh-out-loud moments. I especially loved the scene of Ben, with his new workplace romantic partner, Fiona (Rene Russo) on their first date at a funeral. An old friend, Patty (Linda Lavin), who had the hots for Ben, espies them across the aisle and gives Ben the finger.
There is some silly stuff, mostly related to the other male interns, but in all, I found Meyers' script charming and delightful. Plus the added charisma of De Niro and Hathaway on screen helps to keep "The Intern" from getting stupid.
Playing Ben, De Niro has given one of his most understated performances in years. He's perfectly cast opposite Hathaway as the 70-year-old looking for fulfillment in his life. He's totally disarming and likeable, a true departure from many of his movie roles. And though portraying Jules isn't a real stretch for Hathaway, she brings a certain panache to this character that is only hers to give.
My favorite scene showcases their camaraderie and warmth when Jules and Ben share a snack and watch TV on the bed in her San Francisco hotel room. The moment is very sweet and endearing --- we believe that these two people really care about each other.
My biggest complaint about "The Intern" is the casting of Holm as Matt. He's a terrible actor --- wooden, unemotional --- and there's absolutely no chemistry between he and Hathaway. To top it off, he doesn't even look the part --- nor does he look like someone who should be paired with Anne.
Best for last. I know David will go overboard about Kushner, but he's unquestionably correct in doing so. She is too adorable for words --- that face and her gorgeous mass of curls! Plus she is a good little actress. At one point, when Ben does something for her at the kitchen island, she turns to him and exclaims "Good job!" It's so precious. Watch for this little princess, you'll be seeing a lot more of her. In fact, it's worth seeing "The Intern" just to watch her!
Opinion: See It Now!
I was prepared to intensely dislike this film based on (1) the trailer, which is sometimes, but not always, an accurate indicator, and (2) Robert De Niro's past record in comedies, except for "Analyze This" and "Meet the Parents".
So when Jeanne berated me for pre-judging "The Intern", I was happy to feast on a heaping pile of crow when it was over. I initially thought two hours for what looked like a lame comedy would be a torturous affair, but what a surprise...I was dead wrong!
Ben Whittaker (De Niro) is a 70-year-old widower, retired VP of Sales at a printing firm of telephone books. He's tired of trying to fill up his days with golf, movies, trips around the globe and other activities that I, personally, would have no problem doing, should anything happen to Jeanne. But he's bored and looking for something to keep him busy, so he applies for a "Senior Intern" position with an internet start-up company called "About the Fit", an on-line apparel firm founded by Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway).
The key to this film's likeability lies in De Niro's restraint as Ben. His low-key approach to the role is replete with perfectly timed pauses and appropriate facial expressions. He doesn't try to force anything, preferring to go with the flow, and allow the script to evolve.
When Jules becomes his personal mentor, and essentially ignores him for what seems endless periods --- he reads the newspaper at his desk --- he doesn't panic. He merely waits for an opening, and finds it when he cleans up an absurdly messy area that is the central dumping ground for the office. This catches Jules' eye, and suddenly she regards Ben in a different light.
While we're waiting for Ben and Jules to inevitably establish their relationship, we are sufficiently entertained by the supporting cast, consisting of younger (20-something) employees, most notably Davis (Zack Pearlman), Jason (Adam Devine), Justin (Nat Wolff) and Becky (Christina Scherer), Jules' personal assistant.
Writer/director Nancy Meyers ("Something's Gotta Give", "It's Complicated") doesn't resort to unrealistic situations or dumb-downed dialogue. "The Intern" is an adult story with real life issues, including marital infidelity, loneliness, loss of confidence in one's own abilities and cross-generational friendships.
Rene Russo plays Fiona, an in-house masseuse. Predictably, she and Ben share a mutual attraction, much to the chagrin of Patty (Linda Lavin) who had one date with Ben, and throws herself at him, practically pleading for another one. He's clearly not interested.
Jules is married to Matt (Anders Holm). They have a totally adorable young daughter, Paige (JoJo Kushner), who could be the next Shirley Temple, dimples and all. They appear to be happily married, but her time and dedication to "About the Fit" strains their relationship, which does not go unnoticed by Ben, now Jules' personal driver.
When Jules and Ben fly to San Francisco together where she is to interview a potential CEO for her company --- the theory is that such a person would free up her time to do whatever it is she does best --- they bond in a big way. Their hotel room discussion is a breakthrough en route to Jules declaring Ben to be her best friend, and it's not a stretch, having evolved naturally. It's easily the most touching scene in the film.
"The Intern" is as poignant as it is amusing. When Jules mistakenly sends a nasty e-mail --- to her mother --- asking why her mother is such a terrorist/bitch, it sets off a hilarious chain of events with Ben and his co-workers breaking into Mom's (unseen, but voiced by Mary Kay Place) home to delete the e-mail at all costs, including stealing her computer, if necessary. What could have been a preposterous sequence in the movie is laugh-out-loud funny.
The potential for this film to fall apart due to a saccharine script or overacting was high, but Meyers and her cast never let that happen. It doesn't fall prey to silliness or eye-rolling stunts. Her writing is intelligent, mature and believable, and the strong performances by De Niro and Hathaway do it the justice it deserves. Nancy Meyers can safely add "The Intern" to her other major successes.
Opinion: See It Now!