The best scenes in writer/director Nancy Meyers’ schmaltzy The Holiday were between Eli Wallach, playing an elderly Hollywood legend, and Kate Winslet, his best friend. In those scenes, a sweet, unforced, deeply rooted friendship was established between the wise old man and his affectionate young neighbor. Now, with Meyers’ new film The Intern, it seems she’s made a feature-length expansion of that subplot. While uneven, there is a real warmth to her latest work that’s rare in a modern Hollywood comedy.
Robert De Niro plays a widower and retiree who, for fun, applies for a senior intern position at an online clothing company. Once hired, his presence is initially questionable, until his years of business experience inspires those around him, particularly his boss (played by Anne Hathway).
The Intern is so relentlessly cute, it practically twinkles. This is the cinematic equivalent of a kitten. In comparison, Cocoon is a gritty, hard-edged depiction of the elderly. For better or worse, this is the kind of movie you could take your grandparents to, as I counted a single use of “the F-word,” a no-frills suggestion of hanky panky and nothing else remotely offensive. For much of Meyers’ film, I wondered if she wanted to infect me with the case of the “cutes” that clearly has taken over her actors.
De Niro and Hathaway are both good here but they’ve been such powerhouse actors elsewhere, this isn’t the best showcase for either of them.
After decades of playing some of the most tormented, conflicted, guilt-ridden, deranged or haunted figures in cinema, De Niro deserves his third act phase of having fun and not pushing himself too hard (unless it’s for David O’Russell). De Niro mugs a lot, appears both tightly wound as the lifelong professional but engages with his co-stars and loosens up when necessary. He gives the role what’s required but not much more. In fact, he was far more nuanced, suggested complex layers and was deeply moving in the little seen Everybody’s Fine, the under-appreciated 2009 drama where he also played a single, retired former businessman. Hathaway is appealing, beautiful and invests feeling into every scene, though she’s been better.
Meyers finally adds some comedic heft to the second act, during a scene of an ineptly staged, Danny Ocean-style heist. I won’t describe this ridiculous but welcome sequence, as it’s the funniest part of the movie. This set-piece is the shot in the arm that wakes up the whole movie, in the same way Steve Martin and Meryl Streep getting stoned belatedly brought Meyers’ It’s Complicated to life.
A late night scene, where De Niro and Hathaway have a layered, unguarded conversation on a hotel bed, is the film at its best: it wisely avoids the needless plot complication of suggesting any kind of sexual tension between the two leads and, finally, gives us a genuinely great scene for the two accomplished actors to sink their teeth into. The third act is consistently better than what came before it, leading up to an unforced, quite lovely final scene I liked a lot.
While there’s a sensitivity to the issue of the age gap, this doesn’t dig deep enough into how both the young and old need to meet each other half-way and seek an understanding. On the other hand, this is much better than The Internship, the feature-length Google commercial in which the old guys at a tech company teach the callous young hipsters about life.
The best scenes cut through the mirth and have smart observations to make on the definition of a modern day businesswoman. The worst scene, easily, is when Rene Russo (playing the company masseuse) gives De Niro an erection. No two-time Academy Award winning actor should be subjected to a moment right out of Grumpier Old Men, although Jack Lemmon also won two Oscars, so never mind.
Two and a Half Stars