If The Intern had confined itself to the unlikely relationship that develops between thirtysomething entrepreneur Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway) and seventy-year old retiree Ben Whittaker (Robert DeNiro), it might have worked. Unfortunately, writer/director Nancy Meyers has bogged down the narrative with questionable scenes, tangents, and subplots that take the focus off the April/October friendship and drag the running time out to an unacceptably long two hours.
Retirement means different things to different people. For some, it's an opportunity to unwind and relax after a lifetime of work. Many people enjoy living a life of leisure where demands on their time are few and far between. For others, it's a roadway to boredom. They may not have loved their jobs but now they have far too many hours to fill and the monotony of not doing anything meaningful becomes oppressive. Ben is a card-carrying member of the latter category. A retired widower, he finds himself marking time until the end - existing rather than living. An opportunity to do something arrives in the form of an advertisement for "Senior Interns." A growing online fashion site wants to give back to the community by hiring a few over-65s and Ben goes after the position with relish. After being hired, he is assigned as the personal assistant to Jules, who runs the company. Jules, however, doesn't relate well to "old people" and things start out strained. After a while, however, Ben's disarming, parental approach breaks down her barriers and the two become close.
The Intern is a romantic comedy without the romance. Meyers goes into overdrive ensuring there's not a whiff of sexual tension between Ben and Jules. Is it artificial? Perhaps, but Meyers is compensating for Hollywood's long tradition of pairing aging leading men with much younger women. There's a counter-argument to this, however. Romantic or quasi-romantic companionship doesn't demand sexual frisson - consider the sublime way in which Lost in Translation handled it. A more mature approach might have acknowledged the possibility of attraction without requiring either party to act on it. As it is, Hathaway and DeNiro develop an appealing platonic dynamic. They mesh well together, which makes it a shame that the movie takes so many extraneous detours.
Some attempts to add depth to the characters don't work. A romance between DeNiro and a masseuse played by Rene Russo is so underdeveloped as to be pointless. On the other hand, too much time is spent on Anne Hathaway's marital woes - a little exposure to these would have gone a long way. There's also a bizarre interlude in which Ben and his fellow interns become involved in a heist. This comedic segment feels like an outtake from a Woody Allen movie and, although amusing as a stand-alone skit, it's out-of-place in the larger scheme. Finally, there's an instance of foreshadowing that is (thankfully) ignored. Like too many aspects of The Intern, it's orphaned. It's hard to determine whether the final cut underwent significant tinkering post production or whether the screenplay was never properly vetted before filming began.
Meyers is known for witty screenplays that emphasize the female perspective. Her best known films are the Diane Keaton/Jack Nicholson romance, Something's Gotta Give, and the Meryl Streep/Steve Martin/Alec Baldwin triangle, It's Complicated. Both are lighthearted, enjoyable romps - funny enough not to be taken too seriously but with a hint of insight. In between, however, she was responsible for the messy The Holiday, a rambling, bloated production that resembles The Intern closely in tone and temperament.
Without question, DeNiro and Hathaway elevate the material. They're Oscar-winning professionals and their acting is on display. They make us care about unevenly written characters. In terms of comedic and dramatic content, The Intern is hit-and-miss. Notions about ageism and corporate prejudice against female CEOs are grazed but not explored in a meaningful or compelling way. In the end, the only thing that keeps us from walking out is that we like Ben and Jules, especially when they're together. Had The Intern been better focused and a good bit shorter, that might have been enough.
© 2015 James Berardinelli