Directed by Nancy Meyers
Opens September 25
Nancy Meyers: auteur. To misquote Robert De Niro in The Untouchables, laugh the first time because it’s funny, but the second time because it’s true; The Intern is Meyers’s most streamlined all-in-one package yet, a film about two obsessive-compulsive attentions to detail that happen to meet—in lieu of the expected love story—at exactly the right time. Anne Hathaway stars as Jules Ostin, the wildly successful young CEO of a Gilt Group-esque online shopping service called “About The Fit”; in one of many moments of executive inspiration (dossed-off and immediately forgotten, we’re told), Ostin has instructed her minions to find a few good senior-citizen interns to burnish the company’s profile. Enter Ben Whitaker (De Niro), a septuagenarian widower looking to roll up his sleeves and apply himself to something—anything—in his twilight years.
Even the most lightly seasoned moviegoer will see The Intern’s generation-gap lesson plan from a mile away, but the film coasts on confidence: of its two headliners, and of Meyers’s surprisingly nimble, detailed screenplay.
Nobody takes Ben seriously at first, but the character—like the movie—is all too aware of the situation’s incipient squareness, allowing for a vivid, almost Spencer Tracy-esque turn from De Niro. His stale, you-gotta-be-kidding-me schtick is suffused with a surprising vanilla avuncularity, Meyers intercutting his minute pouts, eye-rolls and shuffles into, say, the mere act of sitting down for a day’s work. Hathaway plays a female lead as strong as she is fallible, routinely spacing out during workplace conversation, getting sucked into her phone or insulting somebody offhand by absent-mindedness.
Jules is haunted by impossible notions of aesthetic (and romantic, and lifestyle, and interior-decorative) perfection; her world is about streamlining, maximizing accessibility, one-upmanship, the right fit. Ben’s life experience and sticktoitiveness make him a welcome foil, and he steps into her life to find personal disorder—a resentful husband and borderline-neglected little girl, to say nothing of all the jealous moms at the Ostins’ Park Slope private school. The big breakup-reunion scene you’d expect from a picture like this isn’t between two lovers, but between Jules and Ben—after he’s discovered that she requested him transferred to another department, wary of his water-cooler perspicacity and perhaps finding him, if the opposite of unruly, maybe not quite enough of a sycophant. “I am normally better than this,” she tells him.
Treacly though it may be, The Intern’s forced smiles are, in fact, diegetic; its broad-base gags (like when Ben has to break into Jules’ mom’s house to delete an email, sent by accident, entitled “She’s a terrorist”) are actually pretty rib-tickling. Meyers has made another rarity, a big-budget studio release willing to tackle issues like how elderly people manage to cope with desire, how young couples cope with infidelity and workaholicism, how successful women still have to deal with workplace sexism in a post-Lean In world. If the final denouement (following a weepy hashing-out between Ben and Jules that sees Hathaway turning tomato-red, like Kate Winslet in Sense & Sensibility) feels overconciliatory, it points back to the film’s secret weapon: a concomitant streak of melancholy that’s both proportionate and humane, ever-so-delicately exposing its protagonists’ fears of dying alone, bored and irrelevant—and by extension, the audience’s as well.