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USA 2015
Directed by
Nancy Meyers
121 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

The Intern

Synopsis: Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) is a 70 year old retired widower. Wanting something more to do with his days, he applies to be part of a Senior Intern  program, an initiative run by a successful start-up internet fashion company headed by Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway). At first Jules barely notices Ben but gradually his presence starts to thave an effect on the overworked career-woman juggling work and family life.

Tinsel Town has long been in the business of peddling dreams and it is easy to imagine The Intern  having been made, with the appropriate adjustments, in the 1940s with, say, Lionel Barrymore and Claudette Colbert in the leads.  If seen today we would enjoy such a film for its nostalgia value and accept its sentimental contrivances as characteristic of the times. Seventy years later those strategies are too obvious in their falseness to have any purchase on us.

Writer/director Nancy Meyers, a specialist in mid-life rom-coms (e.g. What Women Want, Something’s Gotta Give, It’s Complicated), whose demographic is ageing with her, is a skilled craftsperson and there are some cleverly-turned and quite droll observations on the modern generation gap and life for senior citizens in the 21st century.  In the lead, De Niro has been playing this kind of old-fashioned, slightly crusty but endearing paterfamilias since Meet The Parents and Hathaway is, of course, a veteran of The Devil Wears Prada , so both are well within their comfort zone and do what is expected of them.

But that’s the  problem – this film is too comfortable. It’s so snug in its well-to-do New York setting, so familiar in its comedic set-ups, so obvious with its tears that its manufactured sheen is a source of, if not downright annoyance, then  disbelief.  Perhaps even more damning is the sheer inconsequentiality of its characters.  Jules’s greatest concern is whether the tissue paper is properly folded in the delivery boxes and she is praised for this by Ben who has spent his whole life manufacturing telephone books.  There is a minor kink and that is that Jules’ stay-at-home-Dad husband  (Anders Holm) is having an affair.  Yet with arch-feminist disapproval (let’s leave aside the fact that Jules sells dresses online to women who have, or at least imagine so after a couple of glasses of white, figures like Anne Hathaway) Meyers actually makes him the bad guy (Ben disapproves as well).  And to pre-empt anything more than Platonic love developing between Jules and Ben, the latter is paired off with a suprisingly old office masseuse (Rene Russo).

The Intern might have been an appealing film had either Ben or Jules had some personality quirks or defects (the one moment in which the film looks like it might become interesting is that in which Jules wants to transfer Ben because he is "too observant" but this is soon brushed aside) but both are so assiduously nice (let’s also leave aside Jules’s cutely ringletted daughter), indeed the whole film is so eager to please that it has the credibility value of a sit-com.  In other works, it’s OK to pass the time but expect no more.




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