Film Review | The Intern

Though it doesn't venture too far from its generic confines, this workplace comedy of manners is a pleasant balm, led by two overqualified stars: Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro

Generation gap: Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway are overqualified but underperforming in this workplace comedy of matters
Generation gap: Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway are overqualified but underperforming in this workplace comedy of matters

The work environment can make for great movie fodder. For one thing, situating a story in an office – or any other professional space – makes it instantly relatable to most of us. The daily grind, the dynamics between colleagues, the relationship with the boss and the struggle to stand out in a competitive environment – all things familiar to us, and all things that would make for cracking good comedy/drama in the right hands.

Written and directed by Nancy Myers (It’s Complicated, What Women Want), The Intern takes the workplace as a starting to point to weave a lightweight comedy with an instantly appealing hook.

Starting a new job is daunting by any measure, but when you’re 70 years old the process becomes all the more complicated. But newly widowed Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) is adamant to fill the “hole” in his life left by retirement, and when he catches wind of a newly-launched ‘senior internship’ programme, he jumps at the chance to apply for a post at an up-and-coming online fashion site, All About the Fit, run by the resourceful but overworked Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway).


Jules is sceptical about this newfangled initiative at first, but gradually warms to Ben’s charming old-world demeanour and unflinchingly professional attitude.

However, not all is rosy with the figure-friendly online shopping site. Signs point towards Jules needing a CEO to oversee things, which in her eyes defeats the purpose of her striking out as an independent business owner.

With her marriage to Matt (Anders Holm) also taking considerable strain from Jules’ dogged insistence to go it alone, will Ben prove to be the magic salve that gives her life some perspective?

Effectively doing a switcheroo on her career-defining role in The Devil Wears Prada (2006), The Intern casts Hathaway in a role comparable to the one Meryl Streep – a Myers veteran – held in that film, albeit in an embryonic version of that same character. As such, the preamble leads us to believe that she’s some kind of dragon lady, but this is never apparent to the viewer. If anything, she just comes across as overwhelmed by her hard-won but equally quick ascent to success, so casting her as some kind of monster just feels unnecessary.

It’s at times like these when the cracks in Myers’ otherwise insistently inoffensive film begin to show. It’s a definite case of wanting to have the cake and eat it too: she wants to hook mass audiences in with the promise that all the comforting comedy clichés will be present and accounted for, while also trying to squeeze something topical and worthy through the ossified mold of the genre.

For the most part this doesn’t really affect the film’s rhythm, but it’s glaring when it does. One example is a later scene – expanding an already-bloated running time – in which Hathaway offers yet another tearful monologue in a single take. I suppose this is a standard requirement now that she’s bagged an Oscar for her similarly framed – and equally waterworks-intensive – rendition of ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ in Tom Hooper’s adaptation of Les Miserables (2013).

De Niro gets his fair share of straight-up screen hogging (‘chewing the scenery’ somehow feels wrong in this almost insufferably cozy environment), and to be honest they’re hardly the show-stopping pieces of cinematic delight you’d expect from a seasoned veteran brought in because of stunt casting.

But the fact that De Niro has dropped the ball on his career is hardly breaking news – The Silver Linings Playbook (2012) offered a glimmer of hope but it appears to have been short-lived – and truth be told he slides into the role of the wise but humble mentor with ease and even, at a stretch, grace.

The Intern also has a couple of things to say about the politics of the workplace and generational shifts – most notably on matters of sexism in business – but it doesn’t dwell on them too much. This cozy bubble can’t handle too much disturbance.