Film Review: ‘The Intern’

'The Intern' Review: Hathaway and De
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Nancy Meyers' smug workplace fable needs every ounce of Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro's combined star quality.

Behind at least one successful woman stands an older, wiser man. That, at least, is the chief takeaway from “The Intern,” a perky generation-gap fable that sneaks some surprisingly conservative gender politics into its stainless new world of online startups and amply product-placed Macbooks. Starring Robert De Niro as the tirelessly benevolent retiree who becomes fashion entrepreneur Anne Hathaway’s unlikely guide to work-life equilibrium, this is smooth white-linen entertainment, unmistakably of a piece with the plush oeuvre of writer-director Nancy Meyers. Yet it takes all the leads’ considerable combined charm to forestall the aftertaste of the pic’s smug life lessons and near-comically blinkered worldview. Supplanting the romantic fizz of “It’s Complicated” and “Something’s Gotta Give” with scarf-deep social engagement may cost Meyers’ latest a little at the box office, but this “Intern” will still be reasonably well-paid by an under-served date-night crowd.

“Love and work, work and love, that’s all there is,” intones 70-year-old widower Ben Whittaker (De Niro) in the film’s opening voiceover — vaguely quoting Freud, but pinpointing the extended concerns of Meyers’ screenplay with ruthless accuracy. (An hour later, one character will suggest changing the subject in a work-focused conversation. “Marriage?” another eagerly suggests. These are the options.) Marital stability and professional achievement are the two objectives by which “The Intern” defines its characters and narrative alike, at the expense of any deeper personal or cultural interests; when Ben tells a date that he can summarize himself in 10 seconds, the script gives us little reason to doubt him.

For Hathaway’s heavily burdened career woman Jules Ostin, on the other hand, even 10 seconds of self-description is time she can ill afford to spare. The founder and president of About the Fit, a Brooklyn-based online couture retailer in the mold of Net-a-Porter, she’s a Type A micromanager who has trouble leaving even customer service calls in the hands of her eminently capable employees. When her patient deputy (Andrew Rannells) announces that she’s to be assigned an assistant via the company’s newly-introduced senior intern program, she takes it as a personal affront.

Enter Ben, whose affability and helpfulness are as consistent as the square charcoal business suits he wears every day. After trying out a host of hobbies and adult education courses to stave off the loneliness of spouseless retirement, the former telephone-directory manufacturer (a pointedly analog career path) has come back around to the workplace: Tai chi classes are all very well, but can’t verily be classified as either work or love. Hoping for a new lease on life from the fiercely young, hip surrounds of About the Fit, he arrives with rolled-up sleeves and a can-do attitude — only to be brusquely ignored by Jules, more frazzled than ever following pressure from investors to hire a senior male CEO for the company.

By this point, it can’t have escaped viewers’ attention that Meyers has fashioned “The Intern” as something of a generational backflip on “The Devil Wears Prada,” with the cannily cast Hathaway having graduated to the role of corporate fashion dragon. (She’s even permitted, in a witty touch, to toss her jacket at Ben in the blasé manner of Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestley.) The difference, of course, is that Jules hasn’t quite Priestley’s time-hardened unflappability, while De Niro is no hapless naif a la Andie Sachs: The balance of authority between them is awkward from the get-go, as Jules complains that her well-seasoned intern is “too observant.”

The turning point, as in “Prada,” is when home-work boundaries are crossed. Ben steps in for Jules’ personal chauffeur (her on-trend preference for cycling, cited in introductory scenes, is inexplicably forgotten), getting to know her young daughter Paige (JoJo Kushner) and affable stay-at-home husband Matt (deftly played by Anders Holm) in the process. Yet as Jules’ marriage, rather than any workplace dilemmas, becomes the focus of the drama, “The Intern’s” superficially 21st-century outlook on age and gender takes on a more regressively paternalistic slant. Jules asserts that she can have it all, but she requires an awful lot of mentoring from Ben — whose professional and marital history is, at least as he tells it, wholly unblemished — to get to that point. There’s not a lot of inter-generational exchange here, as Ben arrives in the narrative with little to learn; beyond helping him set up a Facebook page, Jules doesn’t get to impart much perspective of her own.

Before long, Ben’s even monitoring her drinking with raised eyebrows: She may come to call him her “best friend” (largely because there’s scant evidence of any others), but the subtext is that it’s hard for a woman in her position to find support among her own. Certainly, the film’s other female characters do little for its feminist credentials: Jules’ fellow kindergarten moms are characterized as spiteful housewives, while her mother (heard, never seen) is a passive-aggressive needler. The great Celia Weston is egregiously wasted as a dippy elder intern, while as the frisky office masseuse — this is a Nancy Meyers film, after all — who embarks on a staid courtship with Ben, fellow “oldie-but-goodie” Rene Russo has little to do but twinkle kindly from the sidelines. (She’s over a decade younger than De Niro, but “oldie” status comes early in this world.)

If older women get short shrift, then, their male counterparts are praised to the skies. Hathaway even gets to deliver a wince-worthy sermon to Jules’ cardigan-wearing twentysomething male employees — themselves equally in thrall to Ben — bemoaning the decline of masculinity and decorum in modern men. Jack Nicholson and Harrison Ford (not to mention, by implication, De Niro himself), by contrast, are held up as superior role models of “cool.” This is pretty retrograde stuff, and hardly plausible coming from Jules given her own husband’s enlightened decision to give up his career for hers — not exactly a maneuver from the Jack Nicholson playbook.

At least there’s a genuine crackle of chemistry between Hathaway and De Niro to sell us on their characters’ mutual appreciation: Both actors can perform this kind of personality-led comedy on cue, but also tease out unscripted hints of inner conflict when so inclined. Hathaway does particularly well in a role that frequently draws direct attention to its own unlikeability: Both the steelier and more genial sides of the actress’s signature class-captain charisma play persuasively into her business persona.

Meyers’ detractors often cite her films’ narrow focus on a moneyed sliver of society, and true to form, the story world in “The Intern” could hardly be more homogeneous: For a film set predominantly in Brooklyn, the racial uniformity of the ensemble is regrettably striking. (Ben admits early on that he took Mandarin classes for a stretch; in Meyers’ vision of the Big Apple, it’s hard to imagine what use he might have for them.) Though the pic is brightly shot by Stephen Goldblatt and scored with chipper deodorant-ad zeal by Theodore Shapiro, it’s Kristi Zea’s impeccable production design that again proves the most defining technical element of Meyers’ filmmaking. From the sharp white corners of About the Fit’s warehouse-conversion offices to the ivory calico textures of Jules’ gorgeously refurbished brownstone, all “The Intern’s” interiors radiate a most exclusive kind of expense.

Film Review: 'The Intern'

Reviewed at Warner Bros. screening room, London, Sept. 15, 2015. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 121 MIN.

Production

A Warner Bros. Pictures presentation of a Waverly Films production. Produced by Nancy Meyers, Suzanne Farwell. Executive producer, Celia Costas. Co-producers, Jeffrey J.P. Wetzel, Deb Dyer.

Crew

Directed, written by Nancy Meyers. Camera (color, Arri Alexa HD), Stephen Goldblatt; editor, Robert Leighton; music, Theodore Shapiro; music supervisors, Randall Poster, George Drakoulias; production designer, Kristi Zea; art director, Doug Huszti; set decorator, Susan Bode-Tyson; costume designers, Jacqueline Oknaian, Aude Bronson-Howard; sound (Dolby Digital), Danny Michael; supervising sound editors, Dennis Drummond, Sean Massey; re-recording mixers, Greg Orloff, Tateum Kohut; visual effects supervisors, Bruce Jones, Mark Russell, Hameed Shaukat; visual effects, Shade VFX, Rodeo VFX; stunt coordinator, Victor Paguia; associate producers, Stefan Metz, Christin Mizelle; assistant director, Jeffrey J.P. Wetzel; second unit directors, Alex Hillkurtz, Bruce Jones, G.A. Aguilar; casting, Laray Mayfield.

With

Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway, Anders Holm, Rene Russo, Zack Pearlman, Adam DeVine, Andrew Rannells, Christina Scherer, JoJo Kushner, Celia Weston, Nat Wolff, Linda Lavin, C.J. Wilson.

Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 27

Leave a Reply

27 Comments

Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. Michel says:

    Say something good, or say nothing,,,mmmm,, only had to pay $1.00 on P.P.V. to watch it.

  2. Whoever wrote this film review understands neither life nor the film.

  3. There are certainly films made with obvious agenda(s), from “The TRUE Meaning of Christmas” to “It’s OK to be Gay.” While there doesn’t have to be a moral (or morale) to every story, there’s nothing wrong with building a narrative around one cliche or another, so long as the movie (or book, or TV show..) can somehow remain entertaining for those who might disagree with the author’s perspective (aka “world view”). There is no glaring pulpit to beat on here, therefore “Methinks the lady doth protest too much” immediately came to mind while trying to digest this so-called “review.” (Hey, that’s way too many quotation marks!!! Will be changing the theme to exclamation points at this… point!)
    This rant did more to inform me about Guy Lodge than it told me about the movie. This should never be the case. Now we are forced to look elsewhere in order to decide whether we want to spend our hard-earned slave wages to see “The Intern.”
    I already did, and the answer seems to be “yes.” In case anyone was interested in the point of a review.

  4. Absurdia says:

    This was a solid review of a movie that should have been much better. The director, Nancy Meyers, not only copied music, scenes, and dialogue from other films, she even recycled it from her own. Though Meyers, at 65 years old, still writes illogical, unbelievable films about successful woman that appear to have no reality check from anyone with feet on the ground (“The Intern’s” start up founder exceeds her 5 year goals in 18 months? “It’s Complicated” owner has a bakery cafe the size of a museum, then needs to double the size of her home after her grown kids leave?) she has a passive aggressive relationship with her own gender. She wrote Linda Lavin’s role as DeNiro’s neighbor as an unnecessarily crude, obnoxious woman so Rene Russo’s decade younger match would have to win DeNiro by contrast. After wasting another welcome talent, Mary Kay Place, in “It’s Complicated” she dissess her again by copying the use of her voice as the phone-in mother that she previously played in Nora Ephron’s “Julie and Julia.” And Meyers is so of touch with how to write inclusive plots (absolutely forget diversity) that she had the annoyingly precocious child mock people with bi-polar disorder in an effort to charm the audience. Plot devices appear and disappear in desperate, patchwork story attempts: Hathaway biking in a skirt and heels in the office not big enough to do so; DeNiro stating, only to Hathaway and just once, that he worked in the very same office space for 40 years; an entire break in scene with music copied not from an “Ocean’s Eleven” movie as stated in the dialogue, but from Rene Russo’s heist in “The Thomas Crowne Affair.” This was a great idea that could have been a much better movie with a different director at the helm.

  5. Jim H Thorn says:

    We of the “early bird” sixty somethings. We enjoyed movie. We would like more and if a TV series came of it, good.

  6. Ellie Light says:

    I loved this movie and detested this review. The only criticism I have is the protagonists choice to stay with a cheating spouse. In this sense she becomes an enabler like Hitlary Clinton and Camille Cosby.

  7. Jhun Mandaraya says:

    I am watching this movie as I respond to this post. I reached out to the Internet to try to make sense of what I am watching and this review, I think, comes close to the irritation this film gives me. I am irritated by the smugness (well put, reviewer) that this film exudes through the first (at this point) 30 minutes. I don’t like that the job and company in question has been romanticized. The movie’s lighting and agreeable, chic set design gives the film a clean, fresh look. The problem is that this modern layout with the cattle-call seating and the desks being set up as they are make for a frantic, hyper pitched workplace. I know this because I work in tech in the SF Bay Area and these types of layouts are the bane of the scene here. The folks who made this movie have no idea how uncool this work environment is regardless of the lighting and pro set design. The romance is between Hathaway and the job/company itself. The movie is relentless in giving us the sense the the business is all important — it’s quite ok that the owner of the fashion company is clueless because the business is running too fast. I wanted to watch this movie because of DeNiro and because I thought the idea was unique and hopeful, in a way, for a segment of American society that is undervalued. Bravo for this bit of the movie. But it’s still annoying despite DeNiro and to a lesser extent, Hathaway (I agree that this is Devil Wear Prada with Hathaway as a less evil but still driven boss). I don’t think I’ll make it to the end; not feeling the director’s snappy style and the clueless view of the tech scene. Brooklyn for tech? LOL!!!! PS — just got to the ‘heist’ section of the movie. L-A-M-E. I wasted 1 hour of my life that I will never get back. Good night all.

  8. Jenifer says:

    What a dumb review. Films are not here to promote “feminist credentials”. They are here for entertainment. Im tired of feminists and their nonsense anyway. So what if they mocked old ladies? Most women can’t drive anyway. And yes, I am female. Sheesh, these reviewers with their libtard agendas These Days.

  9. bert benedict says:

    We loved it. Acting was great, locations were neat and the story about friendship between those of different generations gives life lessons to all those who see it.
    Could it have been better? Maybe. The two stars develop a friendship based on love and admiration. The audience where I saw it clapped at the end.

  10. Rupa says:

    Delightful movie, thoroughly enjoyed it. DeNiro’s acting as usual in flawless…nice to see a picture that does not make you say….wait , what? …very nice indeed

  11. susan says:

    I found this movie to be a pleasure. It was fun and DeNiro’s comic timing was impeccable as always. As one who rarely finds humor in a movie, I surprised myself by laughing from beginning to end.. Also, as a “young” 66 year old female, I did not dig deep into the movie just sat back and enjoyed the ride especially the juxtaposition of two generations..

  12. john says:

    Very irritating movie to sit through. Very bad casting.
    A Person (kid) had their spouse screwing around and had connections, lets make a movie!

    Better to stand in the hot sun for a couple of hours than watch this movie.

  13. Jeffrey Eisenmesser says:

    Thank you. I left having confused, mixed feelings. You’ve analyzed/explained the lingering unpleasant aftertaste nicely. (I am 71.)

  14. Caryynot says:

    It’s a fun, heartwarming movie. Stop being so heady. Just enjoy it. Real life is complicated enough! Hey Elaine I hope you are over 65; if not, that get to live to see65! If you have an open heart and an open mind you will be pleasantly surprised! 💁🏻

  15. Akash Singh says:

    It’s adorable and charming, but that’s about it.

  16. Juhne Gable says:

    It is great that a film critic, especially with VARIETY can point out the ridiculous patriarchal stereotypes Hollywood loves to keep pushing year after year. Perhaps , at some point, our films will grow up from the endless, WOODY ALLEN, Peter Pan mentality and become more mature, like European films ? Thank you

  17. stanjl50 says:

    Given the obvious hostility of this reviewer to this film, it must be a pretty great film to wind up with even a lukewarm positive assessment. It is rather pitiful that the reviewer can’t keep even a child’s level of self-control over his social opinions in his review of a film that sounds like it is attempting little more than being a piece of entertaining fluff. This reviewer should be fired since he obviously cannot provide any sort of balance in his reviews and doesn’t believe in any diversity of opinions. Imagine the bias if there were any sort of political viewpoint in the film.

    • Snakebite Jones says:

      GMTA! I saw The Intern today and enjoyed the movie from start to end. I laughed, I cried and still am reflecting on how I was able to relate to the story. The DeNiro character was charming, believable, open hearted and wise. Hathaway played the part of a driven, successful young woman who eventually valued what DeNiro character offered. No wonder the person who wrote this review couldn’t relate.

    • john says:

      Look in the mirror, talk to yourself.

    • Blair says:

      Oh please. Reviews are opinion pieces, albeit by well-schooled writers, and should be taken as such. Give the political-correctness police routine a break — saying he should be fired, how ridiculous! BTW, I hate Nancy Meyers films too — should I be led from movie theaters in chains and not allowed to comment on any films for a period of at least a year, oh arbiter of others’ jobs???

  18. macd says:

    Anne Hathaway is no Diane Keaton, and DeNiro has been phoning it in for the past 20 years. I’ll pass.

  19. Elaine Rosen says:

    hilarious 120 min funnier for the 65 plus crowd.

    • nuschler12 says:

      @Elaine Rosen As a 66 y/o woman with a lifetime of experiences you will never get close to, what a lousy comment! I’ve lived on a sailboat I rebuilt myself, taught trauma medicine to the military, served in Vietnam, started up medical clinics on Indian reservations, in rural areas and urban ghettoes. I’ve been friends with folks who are Navy jet jocks and actually flew in an F-16, know most of the coaches and players in the NBA, have four college degrees. Now what have you done Elaine Rosen? I haven’t had time to get to a movie for a year…but I like both Hathaway and DeNiro. So it is okay with you if I DON’T like R rated frat movies or Game of Thrones?

  20. Anonymous says:

    Smug life-lessons, near comically blinkered world view, homogenous story worlds, racial uniformity of ensembles (even in settings and locations that are extremely diverse in real life) could pretty much be the answer to Variety’s hand-wringing cover issue from earlier this year – ‘what’s wrong with Hollywood?’

  21. Fred Hurt says:

    Hey Guy. Brooklyn is racially diverse for sure, but making a movie that focuses on a specific group is far from regrettable. If this was an all black or hispanic cast, would you be calling it regrettably homogenous? As far as conservative values, millions have them and while it doesn’t make them right it doesn’t make them wrong either. This review is “progressively blinkered”.

  22. Mr Model says:

    “Devil” was filled with great bits of humor. But should have ended twenty minutes earlier, when Anne Hathaway walked away. Anne ‘should have’ tossed her cell phone into the fountain and become free, at least that would have been a more emboldened, more self-empowering ending. I suspect the author of these movies is never censored by those who work around her. Which is what I am reading in this review. I have no problem with the values being expressed. A nice change, from all the wimpy men that seem to be portrayed in most movies these days. But a person with a deft pen and the freedom of censorship as well as being allowed to offer creative suggestions should have been employed to assist this movie author. You know, kind of like “an intern”.

More Film News from Variety

Loading