The Intern (2015)

(On Cable TV, May 2016) It would be far too easy to dismiss The Intern based on conventional expectations. As with nearly all of writer/director Nancy Meyers’s films, this is mild-mannered drama featuring rich white people, with absurdly privileged stakes and a near-absence of conflict. It would be equally easy to expect the worst from Robert de Niro (who, in fifteen years, has completed his transformation from a vital dramatic actor to a walking punchline), be annoyed by Anne Hathaway playing a dot-com entrepreneur or complain about the expected life lesson of “old people have much to teach to the younger generation”. Once you’ve completed your pre-viewing gagging, though, have a look at the film, because The Intern is quite a bit better than expectations would suggest. Perhaps the biggest surprise here is Robert de Niro, who actually manages to turn a good and poignant performance as a seventy-year-old widower returning to work out of sheer boredom. Once the obvious jokes about technology have been made, the film is free to explore notions of old-school masculinity in a modern context, and de Niro makes for a splendid role model given how he’s not asked to parody his usual persona. (One notes that the role was originally planned for Michael Caine.) The script’s gentle rhythm feels like a welcome change of pace for mainstream comedies, and there are a few highlights here and there: Rene Russo pops up as a love interest (ten years younger than de Niro, but that’s still not too bad), a few scenes of physical comedy are funnier than expected and the film does get better as it goes along. There are a few weaker moments, many of them having to do with an infidelity subplot, but The Intern defies expectations by being better than it should have been. It will work better on viewers who are ready for another Meyers film—her style may not be conventional, but her movies often act as breaks from routine. While The Intern may not set audiences ablaze or age very well (the dot-com chatter alone may date the film within a few years), it does what it intends to do and tries to do something easily dismissed but rarely attempted in mainstream Hollywood.

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