Although not an absolute stinker by any stretch, The Intern is a perfect example of everything that is wrong with movies churned out through the Hollywood studio system. Somebody comes up with an idea, some high profile actors are locked in for the leads and away we go. Of course, the challenge is then to expand the idea into 90+ minutes of feel good entertainment for the masses. Now, this may not be exactly how The Intern was developed, but the problem is that it feels as though this may well have been the process by which it came to fruition. For every good moment, there is another that leaves you cringing. Perhaps one of the biggest disappointments is the fact that, despite being directed by experienced female director Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, It’s Complicated), the film is far from flattering in its portrayal of women.
Anne Hathaway is Jules Ostin, the quirky, workaholic creator of an online fashion outlet that is expanding at a rate beyond what anybody imagined. Robert De Niro is Ben Whittaker, a 70-year-old retired widower who is accepted into a senior’s internship program with the company. Despite having founded the company and guided it to its current level of success, there is a push by investors to appoint a CEO and relieve Jules of some of her responsibilities and control. I mean, she is a woman after all, and a young(ish) one at that, so she could not possibly be capable of running what has grown into a substantial organisation. At least that is the message being delivered here. Not only does she undertake a series of interviews with potential candidates (all of whom, as far as I can tell given that we only hear about them but never see them, are men), she also overcomes her initial disdain of Ben and the intern program to become reliant on his worldly wisdom to help her manage both her business and familial dilemmas, not the least of which is her husband’s infidelity (which is justified, believe it or not, by Jules’ work ethic and long hours). How dare she work hard in an effort to make herself and her business a success and expect her husband to remain faithful. He gave up his job to look after their precocious cute-as-a button daughter after all, so surely it is only fair that he can fuck whoever he wants? I mean, that’s reasonable; right?
Hathaway embodies Jules with the charm and likeability that she brings to many of her characters, while De Niro is fine in a role that offers no challenges for a man who remains, in the eyes of many, America’s greatest living actor. He is certainly not required to debase himself like he did in the Fokker franchise and his Ben is a charming, genuinely nice guy who is simply looking for an opportunity to escape the tedium that his life has become. Unfortunately, Hathaway is let down by a screenplay that ultimately presents Jules as somebody who, despite her success and obvious intelligence, is emotionally unstable, a characterisation that only serves to perpetuate the views about women in business that are bandied about in the media at regular intervals (a recent example being comments from rapper T.I. that got plenty of traction in the press in which he declared that he couldn’t vote for a female presidential candidate because he knows that “women make rash decisions emotionally”). An extended scene in a hotel room during which Jules launches into a teary meltdown amid the mounting pressure at work at home only serves to support such outdated notions of women being unable to cope with the pressures of corporate leadership. Other women don’t fair very well either; Jules’ personal assistant Becky (Christina Scherer) is a bumbling, disorganised mess until Ben is assigned to ‘assist’ her, while Doris (Celia Weston), another of the senior interns, is unable to leave a parking space without causing a major traffic incident when she is drafted to replace Ben as Jules’ driver.
It is good to see that, unlike many of his contemporaries, De Niro is willing to play his age and he brings a charm to Ben that is hard to resist, while Nat Wolff, Adam DeVine, Zack Pearlman, Andrew Rannells and Jason Orley feature as a motley group of co-workers. Sure there are a few laughs to be had, but The Intern might have better with more emphasis on Ben’s story; a senior citizen finding purpose in life and a potential new love in Rene Russo’s masseuse Fiona. As it turns out, the message here seems to be that behind any successful woman is a wise man guiding her through life, a proposition that surely belongs in a bygone era.