“I just know there’s a hole in my life and I need to fill it soon,” states Ben (Robert De Niro), one of the main characters in the new comedy The Intern. Ben is a seventy-year-old retired widower who wants to fill his days with an activity where he can do some good. After seeing a sign advertising internships for senior citizens, he decides to apply in the hopes that he can find a new purpose in life.
The concept of the film is simple enough and when it is embracing its light-hearted premise, it works extremely well but too often, the film is too eager to teach a lesson rather than tell a nice story.
For the first hour, the comedy focuses in on Ben as he starts his internship at an online fashion company. The owner of the company is Jules (Anne Hathaway), a charismatic but impatient woman who— as the film states— is one hour late to every meeting. Jules, a married woman with a stay-at-home husband (Anders Holm) and a young daughter (JoJo Kushner) signs off on the internship program on a lark but when Ben is assigned as her assistant, she has little time to seek his advice or input (despite the fact that he has decades of management experience). As the film explores this premise, we inevitably see Jules — who is struggling with investors who want her to hire a new CEO for the company — realizing what a valuable resource her intern can be.
Then the film’s second hour begins and everything goes downhill from there.
What started as a light fun film becomes something different after a silly sequence involving an attempt to delete an e-mail from the account of Jules’ mother, a character who is never seen but who is heard over the phone. This silly scene sticks out like a sore thumb. Aside from the fact that the scene doesn’t fit into the first half of the movie, it undercuts the film’s intelligence when seemingly intelligent characters who work for an internet company gullibly believe that stealing a computer would prevent a user from seeing an e-mail.
After this scene, the entire movie takes a more serious turn as the light-hearted feel-good movie becomes a preachy story about relationships and the sexist judgments— from fellow mothers, business competitors and colleagues— women face in business. The ideas that the film pushes would work in a more serious film but those ideas seem tacked on here. Also, the reasons why Jules is being asked to hire a CEO — which are clearly laid out in the movie’s first half — abruptly change at the end of the film in order to further the film’s message.
The changes between the film’s first and second hours become more blatant when you realize that much of the first hour takes place in the office environment whereas that office takes a back seat in the more serious second hour.
There are aspects of both halves that work here (the first hour is clearly more fully-realized) but the combination of both hurts the totality of the production. Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway make a compelling pair and some of the feature’s best scenes simply showing them bonding with one another but even that strong relationship is damaged when writer/director Nancy Meyers tries to do too much in one film.
Meyers has done some great work in the past including on features like Something’s Gotta Give, What Women Want and The Parent Trap. All three of those films featured comedic elements along with some dramatic moments but in The Intern, the sudden change from one genre to another is so dramatically ill-conceived that it ends up undermining what could’ve been a compelling film.