The Sterling Standard in Movie Reviews 

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Back to Work

Warner Brothers
 121 Minutes
Rated: PG-13
Directed by: Nancy Meyers 
Starring: Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway

Robert De Niro has never been an actor with whom one associates terms like cuddly, warm, and charming. No matter whether he plays a cop or a bad guy, there’s almost always an edge to him, something that, down deep, lets people know that if they cross him, they won’t like it. For that reason, he’s a most unlikely actor to be starring in a Nancy Meyers film, since her movies tend to have a gooey center to them. But, here he is in The Intern, radiating warmth, congeniality, and charm and melting a host of co-stars, including Anne Hathaway, all of whom, with one notable exception, are 40 years or more his junior.


De Niro plays Ben Whittaker, a 70-year-old retired corporate executive whose well-ordered life, since his wife died, has been reduced to attending funerals of associates and sitting in coffee shops pretending to be busy. So, he jumps at the chance to take part in a senior internship program offered by a burgeoning fashion e-tailer called About the Fit. The company is one of those tech savvy, customer and employee friendly, nonconformist firms that seem to thrive in Silicon Valley but not in corporate boardrooms. Ben is assigned to work for the company’s workaholic CEO Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway), who likes riding her bicycle around the large cubicle-less office.


At first, Jules has nothing for Ben to do, so he spends his time getting to know the guys working around him and gradually learning the rudiments of the device-driven world of today. He also starts helping to organize the office, prompting Jules to notice the improvement. She winds up warming up more to him and letting him be her de facto chauffeur. At her home, he sees how she is trying to maintain a relationship with a six-year old daughter and a house husband (Anders Holm).


In addition to her efforts to keep some semblance of a family life, Jules is facing pressure at the office to hire a CEO to take over the day-to-day operation of the business and allow her to “do what she does best.” Of course, what this means is that potential investors don’t want to deal with a CEO who’s female, young, female, bright, and female. Needless to say, Jules, who wears her emotions on her sleeve, doesn’t react too well to this pressure and increasingly turns to Ben for fatherly advice.


You may think you know where The Intern is going, and, in general, you would be right, but there are a lot of interesting plot twists along the way. This is not a movie in which a bunch of stuck up 20-something know-it-alls eventually figure out they have a wise sage in their midst. The acclimation process takes place much more quickly as they are all more than willing to confide in Ben and, ironically, get fashion and relationship advice from him (De Niro has a wardrobe in this movie the envy of any Fortune 500 executive). And, while Ben has his own learning curve to surmount, both in terms of social media and 21st century workplace mores, the movie doesn’t take the easy way out of turning him into a complete nincompoop.


Nor, for the most part do Ben’s younger co-workers show the type of ignorant disdain that characters in this type of movie typically do. There isn’t a single really unlikable, completely self-centered jerk in the film, not even a token windbag who’s ready to be taken down starting in the first scene in which he appears. Instead, Ben’s co-workers are more than aware that they lack the general social and business graces needed to succeed beyond the keyboard and all too willing to accept Ben’s guidance as soon as they get to know him a bit.


In fact, that overall camaraderie is the film’s main weakness. Contrary to the idealistic way the business environment at About the Fit is portrayed, real corporate life can often be much more cutthroat, and the lack of such conflict gives the movie a bit of a fairy tale feel to it. The real stress in the movie doesn’t result from Ben’s attempt to re-enter the workforce, but from Jules’s problems in trying to juggle a home life with a demanding job. Despite a very supportive husband, she’s just too tired and seldom present to be a factor in her daughter’s life, and part of the reason she considers stepping down is to be there for her daughter. Of course, Meyers makes the point that Jules’s dilemma is exacerbated by the fact that she’s female and that most men in her situation would simply let their wives or hirable caregivers take care of their children.


The other aspect of Jules’s problem, as Meyers makes clear, is that she’s simply not taken seriously as a businessperson because she’s female. Beyond the talk of finding someone to “carry some of the load,” what’s left unstated is the idea that investors and potential business partners won’t take a company seriously if they think it’s basically an out-of-control cottage industry being run by a woman with a clever idea but little business sense.


It’s not giving too much away here to say that Ben helps her out, but exactly how he helps her out and what insights he offers may be a bit surprising. Of course, along the way, he helps himself out quite a bit as well, as a relationship with Rene Russo, who plays the company’s in house masseuse (one of those perks that seemingly don’t exist anywhere outside of Silicon Valley high tech outfits). Russo appears far too seldom in movies nowadays, and it’s good to see her, as well as De Niro, in a part that feels like a real character.


My review of The Intern is undoubtedly colored by the performance of the leads, especially De Niro. This is far from his best work, but in many ways, Ben is one of the warmest, open characters he’s ever played. He’s also matched with a perfectly cast Hathaway and Russo, two actresses who can more than hold their own against him. The Intern does offer a good bit of workplace insight, but it mostly offers breezily light and eminently watchable charm from a talented cast.

Read other reviews of The Intern:


The Intern (2015) on IMDb