With The Intern, writer/director Nancy Meyers, the woman behind Something’s Gotta Give and It’s Complicated, gives us the latest of her gentle, older-skewing comedies. Don’t expect to see anything the least bit surprising or provocative here; this is very much the gentle, inoffensive comedy written on the bottle. The Intern is a film filled with kind and likeable people being extra friendly to each other, simplistic plotting, and predictable jokes that make you laugh all the same. While the characters lack a crucial edge and the plot is nearly devoid of suspense, there is something undeniably charming and warm about Meyers’ fluffy style of comedy. The Intern is far too soft and plushy to make an impact, but it does make for some excellent Sunday morning comfort food.
The Intern immediately introduces us to Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro), a retired widower trying to keep himself active and a part of society. When an online fashion retailer introduces a senior intern program, Ben seizes the opportunity to get back into the workforce and scores a role as assistant to the company’s founder and CEO, Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway). Initially skeptical of the program and Ben himself, Jules soon realises how much he has to offer and with fears of her company beginning to outgrow her, makes him her friend and confidante.
While there’s some low-hanging fun to be had with De Niro’s old-school businessman imparting his knowledge on some wishy washy youngster, The Intern doesn’t have a huge amount to explore beyond its central conceit. The film settles very quickly into its slice-of-life tone. The occasional misadventure aside, there are almost no stakes or suspenseful elements to keep you captivated, just a simple comedy about good people doing honest work. Yes, Ben’s need to feel a part of the world and Jules’ fear of the company moving beyond her are commendable subplots, but it’s hardly life or death stuff. While that does paint a fairly saccharine picture, the focus really is on the comedy and the friendly faces delivering it. So as long as you can stomach the sweet, vanilla humour, there’s enough to enjoy that you can forgive the plot’s shortcomings.
What does stick out though is the notable absence of any real antagonist. Aside from judgmental mothers, pretty well the entire cast of The Intern are on the same team, helping each other out and working toward the same goals. On the one hand it can become tiresome seeing so many happy people patting each other on the back, and someone to get the blood pumping may have given The Intern the shot in the arm it sometimes needs. But it’s hard to imagine any sort of villain that would fit in this film and not be some eye-rolling cliché. In a comedy as by-the-book as The Intern, it’s refreshing to see Meyers resist leaning on this particular convention and letting the up-beat world she created play out unpolluted. There is one character who could have easily taken the bad-guy mantle later in the film, but impressively, The Intern resists temptation and treats their infractions with patience and understanding. I’d be lying if I didn’t say this gets a little mushy, but such a mature perspective on the subject is something alarmingly rare in Hollywood.
While I have used the words ‘vanilla’ and ‘inoffensive’ to describe the comedy, the humour is (for the most part) very successful and is delivered with enough frequency that all positive emotions flying around don’t start feeling overwrought. Admittedly, some of the setups are a little forced, and the intergenerational humour can be eye-rolling at times, but there is more than enough wit and energy to the script to keep you smiling. Meyers’ comedy is intrinsically grounded and relatable, organically growing out of situations, but never really building to anything greater than the scene currently playing. With more comedic leads or longer structured setups from Meyers, The Intern could probably have been a bit more memorable, but as it stands the film still is what it sets out to be first and foremost: funny.
There’s no denying Ben Whittaker is a likeable character, but unfortunately he really isn’t a very interesting one. While there’s innate tragedy to a man who’s lost his life and can’t find his way in the world, The Intern nips this in the bud and immediately enforces Ben as upbeat and life- affirming. With his only dips from this state being passing disappointment when something doesn’t meet his standard, it’s hard to feel invested in his story. De Niro is welcoming and loveable as the film’s male lead, but he does feel like a casual observer happily going on for the ride and not the once great businessman rediscovering himself the film tries to cast him as.
Hathaway’s Jules is thankfully blessed with a little more conflict and personality. After being hugely successful by constantly staying involved in every aspect of the business, the idea that she may have to step back a little to allow her company to continue growing is scary. With a kid at home, a family trying to get more time with her, and a board of investors pushing her to hire a CEO, the pressure for her to betray the philosophies that made her successful gives the film the only plotline with any real bite. While it’s an incredibly first-world problem to have, Hathaway gives it weight with subtle hints of stress and melancholy under her big cheery smile.
For better or for worse, The Intern is an extremely digestible comedy designed to keep any viewer happy. While the unexceptional story and simplistic comedy stop it from being a must-see, the consistently paced humour and warm, inviting cast ensure even the most begrudging viewer can smile along. Unlikely to be loved, but impossible not to like, The Intern is perfect for anyone in need of a cheery and cheesy pick me up.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10