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By Christopher Ortiz · September 25, 2015
After a successful life split between business owner and faithful husband, Ben Whitacker (Robert DeNiro) has a hole in his heart that needs filling. Luckily, a young start-up fashion business, About The Fit, seeks senior interns for extra help and potentially life-saving wisdom, if only because recent research suggests it would be a good idea. As lazy a line of reasoning as that sounds, the characters in The Intern are all highly motivated individuals and moslty manage to dodge stereotypes. There’s a degree of one-dimensionality to some of the supporting case, but writer/director Nancy Meyers smartly avoids the beaten path in which characters exist only to go nowhere. With plenty of screen-time for the all to shine, along with compelling performances from DeNiro and Hathaway, The Intern’s as sweet and charming as its title character.
Admittedly, Meyers treads dangerously at first. DeNiro plays a 70 year-old widower who takes on the senior internship to feel useful in a world that’s changing so quickly around him. Anne Hathaway’s Jules Ostin, the owner of About The Fit, double-times as a successful but struggling careerist and the mother of an adorable child who spends her under the care of her full time father. Ben’s initially not given much to do given Jules’ reluctance to pass her work on to others. One might be tempted to draw comparisons with Meryl Streep’s character in The Devil Wears Prada, but Jules is much more good-natured. In fact, it’s because of her rare hardworking streak that the business has grown so big and so fast. The increased scope is physically taxing for Jules, and control is rapidly slipping from her grasp.
For this reason, Jules carries the deepest and most interesting arc in The Intern. She must settle on a CEO that can keep her business running smoothly at the expense of her ownership. The hope is that such an arrangement may also improve her health, not to mention her strained marriage. By carrying on the way she has, she stands a real risk of watching her personal life slowly unravel.
Meyers understands the fears, sacrifices, and unintended consequences that so often arise from professional life, particularly for a working mother– glass ceilings, gender roles, and the balance between work life and home life. The Intern could be a bit subtler with its dialogue, but what’s here is chock full of characters ready and willing to connect, communicate and let out their pain.
Ben Whitacker’s inspires those around the office as someone willing to go the extra mile for his work, his friends, and for the sake of doing the right thing. One scene in particular has Ben creating a Facebook profile; he lists his favorite quote as “You’re never wrong for doing the right thing… but I’m sure Mark Twain said that once before”. It’s a simple philosophy that seems to have worked out pretty good for him so far.
Meyers’ ultimate message is that despite generational gaps in the work force, the leading cause of strife centers on fears of finding one’s place and being properly understood. Everyone warms to Ben, and even the characters with small roles grow through him in one way or another. In fact, if anything, the balance between Ben and Jules favors the latter’s personal problems over the more engaging workplace setting.
Warmth is the name of the game here, and in The Intern Meyers offers it up in spades. It’s not the funniest film she’s written and directed, nor does it showcase her most engaging character work, and visuals, but it’s definitely the timeliest. With its ageist and feminist themes, Meyers sells The Intern’s message well without ever coming across as pedantic or condescending. Jules is a great female character with a complete arc that wholly satisfies. It’s a pleasant cinematic experience that expresses the difficulty of understanding who you are and what you’re capable of in an “Information Age” that never seems to know what it wants.