Anne Hathaway and Robert DeNiro star in The Intern, a movie that is harmless, genial, and at times, thoroughly pleasant. It is not the wacky fish-out-of-water film that promos make it out to be. In fact, there’s very little conflict in the film until the last half hour. The relationship between the senior intern Ben Whittaker (DeNiro) and his much younger female boss Jules (Anne Hathaway) is surprisingly sweet and respectful, and there is no intergenerational butting of heads of which to speak.
Ben is a retired widower with too much time on his hands and a void in his life who decides to enroll in a senior internship program for a booming Internet start-up that sells clothes online. Jules is the stressed-out boss of the company attempting to fight off the venture capitalists who want to install a CEO and to help her manage the company before it gets away from her. She is resistant because it’s her company and she doesn’t want to cede any control over it to someone else, even though the hours she puts in often keeps her away from her daughter and stay-at-home Dad husband (Anders Holm).
DeNiro comes in and provides her with a comforting presence and the occasional bit of advice, but it’s not advice from his own generation. He meets Jules in her generation, and while it may initially seem like the kind of film where a father-figure encourages Jules to better balance her work and family life, nothing could be further from the truth. Ben doesn’t come in and save Jules’ ass; he roots for her to save her own ass.
In fact, the angle that Nancy Meyer’s The Intern takes is refreshing, especially for a movie targeted at an older audience. The stay-at-home Dad character is treated with respect, Jules is never made to feel guilty (except by a gaggle of other PTA moms) about prioritizing her work, and 70-year-old Ben never tsk tsk her for spending too much time in the office. Everyone treats Jules just as they would a male boss with a family, except for Jules herself, who feels grateful but occasionally guilty about her husband giving up his career so that she could pursue hers.
It’s an interesting contrast to Diablo Cody’s Meryl Streep film last month, Rickki and the Flash, which was thematically about a woman who put her career goals ahead of her family and was punished for it, never mind the hypocrisy in a man doing the same thing and being rewarded for it. While The Intern is thematically similar, there’s no judgment here, and there’s never a moment in which we root for Jules to give up her job to be a better Mom. In fact, it cuts the other way: We want her to succeed, no matter how much she needs to throw herself into her job, because she has a spouse at home perfectly capable of raising their child.
DeNiro is not someone with whom we associate cuddly characters, but he hasn’t been this likable since his (arguably offensive) gay pirate character in Stardust. He successfully pulls off the Steve Martin twinkle, while Hathaway plays her character perfectly: She is demanding and confident, without ever coming off as a shrewish, ball-breaking stereotype.
The Intern wanders at times, and the humor is far from edgy, but it’s comfortable and occasionally funny (the older folks who made up the majority of the audience were laughing hysterically throughout much of the film). More importantly, it never condescends. It’s a take-your-parents-to-the-movies joint: An innocuous, nice, sweet film that may be predictable, but is not without substance or the occasional laugh.