The Hippo


May 27, 2020








The Intern

The Intern (PG-13)
Film Reviews by Amy Diaz

By Amy Diaz

The Intern (PG-13)

Robert De Niro plays a retiree who heads back into the workforce in The Intern, a cute idea for a movie.
Or, actually, maybe a couple of cute ideas for a movie, none of them terribly well-developed.
Ben (De Niro) is a 70-year-old widower who, after a few years of retirement, can’t take the lack of urgency any more. After traveling the world, learning Chinese and taking cooking classes, he decides he needs a workplace again and applies for a “senior internship” at an Internet business. The business, a  start-up less than two years old, has something to do with selling clothes and is vague but successful in the way that so many a movie Internet business is. Ben is one of four interns — two other seniors and one “regular aged” goofus named Davis (Zack Pearlman) — and he is placed as the personal intern to Jules (Anne Hathaway), the company’s founder. 
By showing up and being willing to pitch in with whatever, Ben wins the general admiration of the mostly 20- and young 30-something employees at the company. Solely because the plot requires it, Jules is initially not thrilled about having Ben around but she eventually grows to appreciate his general competency and adultness. And Jules could use some more competency and adultness in her life at the moment.
Her fast-growing company is facing an investor push to hire a CEO — which would mean Jules would lose power at her own company — and, in her personal life, her stay-at-home husband Matt (Anders Holm) is growing restless and frustrated with their lack of time together. Ben, meanwhile, loves the purpose and human contact that comes with his new job, particularly the contact with office massage therapist Fiona (Rene Russo), who takes an instant shine to Ben.
As expected, this movie contains a fair amount of “what’s a USB port?” and “old person doesn’t know about Facebook” silliness. (That last part feels particularly ridiculous considering that it seems like everybody’s grandma is on Facebook.) But, thankfully, it goes to the tepid seniors-vs.-technology well a lot less than it could have. Perhaps just as unrealistically, Ben is almost always the hero of any scene — never, really, is Ben shown having to adapt to some modern new school of thought. And, while it feels a little wish-fulfillment-y having him always, instantly, master every aspect of the Modern Hipster Workplace, it actually presents an interesting idea, which is that a lot of work is built on work skills that are the same whether you’re making phone books (Ben’s previous career) or selling stuff online. 
This movie is full of interesting ideas — ideas about work, retirement, marriage, work-life balance, entrepreneurship, workplace relationships, generational gender differences, parenthood. The ideas keep coming for the first half of the movie and are laid out, like randomly grabbed clothes strewn on a bed. But just as grabbing blindly at stuff in your closet doesn’t ensure the creation of a coherent outfit, so does an array of ideas not equal a complete story.
Ben’s entry back into the workplace is basically something he does on a whim, his latest hobby like the tai chi he does in the park or the cooking classes before that. There is no urgency about his work, there are no stakes. If he failed, he could just move on to learning French and basic carpentry. Giving him some stakes or making the work something that involved some learning on his part could have made the story a little more realistic while adding humanity and humor. 
The relationship between Ben and Jules is very fairy godfather. He is the Mary Poppins (or the Nanny McPhee, depending on your magical nanny preferences) who whisks into her life and tidies everything up. He is all advice and hankies and she is, after just the slightest hesitancy, full of gratitude. There is none of the actual tension, none of the very normal difficulty that can result from an older person working for a much younger one, particularly when the older person is a man and the younger person is a woman. The real struggles there don’t have to make one or the other character a villain and would have been interesting to explore. 
Instead of picking an idea and developing it or coming up with something it wants to say about a few of the ideas, the movie dissolves, like cornflakes in too much milk, into a bowl of mush in its final third, made hopelessly soggy by some out-of-nowhere, very flat-feeling “zaniness” and a string of “heartfelt speeches” — so so many heartfelt speeches. The movie speeches its way to resolution and then just stops, like the cameras were coin-operated and the filmmakers had spent all their quarters.
The Intern isn’t a total bust. De Niro and Hathaway each play characters with just enough depth to make it past the expectations of cartooniness I had going into this movie, and they have nice enough chemistry together. But the movie needs more than sentiment to turn its cute concept into a fully realized story. C
Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and brief strong language. Written and directed by Nancy Meyers, The Intern is two hours and one minute long and distributed by Warner Bros. 

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