The Intern Review


From time to time I like to broaden my palate and watch something which, frankly, I do not expect to enjoy.

Typically, if the advertising campaign for the film features the main stars grinning inanely at the camera or worse, leaning against the side of the poster, I tend to avoid.

But if one of the stars happens to be Robert De Niro, I guess that’s justification enough for me to stop and pay attention. Which may lure in other unsuspecting but similarly-minded cinephiles.

Nancy Meyers’ latest film, The Intern, makes use of such trickery.

De Niro plays Ben, a 70-year-old widower who is struggling to busy himself during retirement. We learn all this through a pretty standard exposition voice-over at the start of the film.

Ben stumbles across an advertisement by a fashion start-up company for a senior internship programme. Like most of the film’s characters, he finds this absolutely hysterical. Plot-integral it may be, but hysterical? It’s not really.

Ben is, of course, recruited and is swiftly assigned to the company’s founder, Jules Ostin. Jules is a fun-loving workaholic who is so quirky that she rides a bike around the office from meeting to meeting. Or at least, she does at one point, until that affectation is dropped from the script.

Jules and Ben do not quite gel initially but warm to each other over the course of the movie and it becomes clear that, although he is meant to be learning from her, she is the one who ends up learning from him.

That should give you the measure of the schmaltz-factor to expect here.

De Niro is still De Niro in a way, flashing his patented smile-by-frown throughout the film, but in a benign, as opposed to Mafioso, way. Make no mistake: he is firmly on cuddly mode here as a sort of corporate Mary Poppins, whizzing around the office and solving both the work and personal problems of his younger colleagues.

Hathaway is standard Hathaway, all wide-eyed and on the brink of blubbering most of the time.

Other than the two stars, there is not much to tune in for here. The film’s trajectory is predictable, the structure is formulaic and the script lacks any sort of bite in terms of the points it is trying to make about gender politics in the workplace.

It’s just a pity that the actual interaction between Hathaway and De Niro mostly feels like a pair of seasoned pros embarrassingly picking up their cheques.

There are some enjoyable exceptions, like when the pair chat over hotel snacks during a work trip or share beer and pizza after a day at the office and you get an actual sense of the characters and their relationship.

But these instances are few and far between, crowded out by a sub-plot about Jules’ marriage, an odd, comedy-heist sequence and a shoehorned love interest for Ben. It is admittedly good to see Rene Russo but she has a pretty thankless role here.

In short, it’s such a harmless confection of a film that it’s hard to be too resentful. If you are happy to settle for the cinematic equivalent of an airplane novel, look no further.

Conor Brennan

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Dates ‘n stuff

October 2015