Writer-Director Nancy Meyers’ latest film, The Intern, has a likable cast with a fun premise and a breezy script, but is the film too easy?
Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) is a retired widower who has become restless and bored with retired life. He spots a flyer calling for senior interns at an online fashion site that is on the rise. Ben ends up applying for the job and is assigned to the company’s founder and boss, Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway). Ben gets to know his fellow interns and attempts to acclimate to the office culture of the 21st century. Jules has her own problems as she attempts to balance work and home life as well as keep her company growing. Her investors want to bring in a more experienced CEO to run the company while Jules focuses on keeping the brand intact. Now she has the unenviable task of interviewing her own boss all while dealing with Ben, whom she feels was foisted on her. However, she may find that Ben is exactly what she needs in her life right now.
The Intern definitely has very funny moments throughout. It’s a very easy, very safe film. The cast has a nice chemistry and if you’re looking for a film that’s not going to challenge you at all, by all means, check it out. However, I found myself picking out all the obvious plot points before they even cropped up and imagining ways that Meyers could have fixed them to turn a lightweight film into one that might actually be really good. Let’s start with who is this movie about? From the premise, which I really liked, one would think the film is about Ben and how he struggles with modern office life. Considering the intended audience is older folks—an audience largely ignored at the cinema—this would be a natural assumption. What you end up getting, though, is a comedy morphing into more of a melodrama about Jules and her issues, especially the relationship she has with her husband Matt (Anders Holm). Their subplot could be seen coming from a thousand miles away and even then it felt tacked on.
At the end of the film—this isn’t really giving anything away—Jules goes to Ben’s desk, but he’s not there. With the way Ben is so perfect and all the great advice he gives Jules throughout the film, I half-expected Meyers to pull a Fight Club on the audience: He was never there to begin with. Of course he was, he was just a nice guy who never had any drama in his life apparently, aside from losing his wife three years previously. In fact, everyone in this film is ridiculously nice. There are really no antagonists in this film, which makes for a boring story. Jules constantly says she’s hard to work for, but her only real flaw is that she works too hard and cares too much about her company. None of the characters are really that compelling. I don’t want to get into a ton of spoilers, but even when Ben isn’t sure he should tell Jules a secret, she knows that too! Aside from the marriage subplot, there is zero conflict in this film. Jules doesn’t want to hire a CEO to take over her company, sure, but we never meet any of these CEOs. We see her go into meetings and then come back to relate what happened. That’s called telling, not showing, folks, and it is a storytelling no-no.
While the story is completely predictable, the one plot twist that is screaming to happen never comes to pass. Can something be considered to be a spoiler if you expect it to happen, but it never does?
SORT OF SPOILERS
Basically, it’s beyond obvious that the CEO for the company should be Ben, but it never comes to fruition. Making Ben the intern first, but then the CEO would have been an obvious move, but it also would have generated the most natural conflict and drama between Jules and Ben. At the start of their professional relationship, Jules is constantly trying to get rid of him, but there’s no conflict there because Ben is merely working at her company to avoid boredom. He doesn’t need the job, so he really has nothing to lose. Ben should have been made the CEO and in fact, that should have been the reason why he was brought into the intern program in the first place. Jules’ right-hand man, Cameron (Andrew Rannells), should have hired Ben looking to promote him down the line for the good of the company. That would have made Cameron an antagonist, but not an unbelievable villain. I also feel like Jules should have been truly difficult to work for, but it ends up only being a manifestation of her caring too much about the company she built. Ben could have been the one employee to break through her hard exterior. I can only imagine that the reason Meyers didn’t go that route was to avoid obvious comparisons to The Devil Wears Prada, in which Hathaway was in De Niro’s shoes. Finally, I think that the husband should have been jettisoned from the start. Make Jules a single mother to Paige (JoJo Kushner), but the girl is really being raised by the nanny, making Jules feel like a failure in the most important aspect of her life. See? Conflict.
END SORT OF SPOILERS…but I just totally fixed this movie.
The cast does a fine job here and has a nice chemistry together. De Niro is likable as Ben, but he’s supposed to be. I would have liked to have seen a little more depth to his character though. Maybe he worked too much before and now regrets it because he lost his wife. Something would have been better than De Niro just playing the perfect old man. Same with Hathaway as Jules. She does a great job with what Meyers gives her, but she should have been a little more of a bitch. Just because she says she’s difficult to work for doesn’t make it true. Kushner is adorable as the daughter, but she was a little too much a “movie kid,” in that she’s way too precocious for her own good and it became unbelievable at times. Rene Russo puts in a good turn as the company’s in-house masseuse who hits it off with Ben immediately. Even there, Meyers makes the story too easy. Russo and De Niro are both of a certain age—just showing two people a little set in their ways and the conflict that develops would have been better than the neatly-tied bow of a relationship we get from them. But again, that goes back to who is this film about. If the film were truly about Ben, Russo’s character probably would have benefitted from some more character development.
Overall, I didn’t hate The Intern—it’s definitely funny—but it could have been so much better. Meyers is known for making humorous, safe films and The Intern is that in spades. The problem is, a really compelling film is hidden there under the surface if Meyers had just bothered to dig it out.