The world of Nancy Meyers sure is beautiful.
But her studied production design and dreamy interiors have become such a focal point, that they’ve almost eclipsed her storytelling. It marginalizes what she does, and how she has, from The Parent Trap to It’s Complicated, created her own lovely cottage industry of movies that are, for the most part, exceedingly pleasant to watch.
She tells stories about divorce, affairs, and later life loves, using wit and humor that is somehow blue and sassy, but also innocent. Meyers is one of the more retro writer-directors working today.
The Intern, her first film in six years, is a curious case, melding those modern retro sensibilities in a way that even further distances her work from reality. But this is not a love story. It’s a workplace tale about a smiley, unflappable 70-year-old retiree Ben (Robert De Niro) who goes to intern for the 30-something CEO of an online retail startup.
With only the most polite issues peppering the plot, it’s less a study of generational conflict and more of a series of loosely connected events about a guardian angel sent out of retirement to tell Anne Hathaway that she really can have it all.
Ben’s adjustment to working with all these kids might be the hook, but Jules Ostin (Hathaway) is the heart of the movie. In 18 months, she has built an insanely successful clothing business from the ground up and is now juggling a kid, her relationship with her stay-at-home husband, and a board of directors who want to replace her with a more seasoned CEO.
She has her quirks. but Jules is neither the prototypical cutesy, clumsy comedy heroine nor the passionless exec who just needs to loosen up. In fact, Jules isn’t a type at all. Hathaway plays her as serious, wise, playful and insecure.
Her unusually developed character has the somewhat adverse effect of exaggerating Ben’s one-note, but charming simplicity. Ben spent his career at a factory that made phonebooks. He’s widowed, retired and bored. De Niro plays him as so nice and so cuddly that he’s almost alien. He is the grandpa from Up without the edge, here to tell millennial men to stop dressing like little boys, to carry handkerchiefs because ladies cry, to stay at work until the boss leaves, and to talk to, not text, romantic prospects.
Beyond a flirtation with the office masseuse (Rene Russo), Ben has nowhere to grow. He’s set in his ways, just there to help everyone, especially Jules. It’s an odd relationship with few actual revelations. That’s because there’s no big conflict.
In keeping it all so polite, The Intern, while being a pleasant and watchable movie, is also entirely ephemeral. Maybe that’s why, like Meyers’ other films, The Intern will likely be so re-watchable, too.
Cast: Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway, Anders Holm, Rene Russo, Zack Pearlman, Adam DeVine.
Writer-director: Nancy Meyers.
A Warner Bros. release. Running time: 121 minutes. Brief strong language, suggestive content. Playing at area theaters.