There’s a long list of ways in which movies can be inoffensive, and The Intern ticks them all off. This is a nice movie about real problems people face in real life, and it deals with them in as sidelong a way as it possibly can, avoiding all strong emotion even when it comes to matters that touch at our innermost selves, such as the betrayal of infidelity and the infuriation of not being taken seriously no matter how smart or successful you are simply because of ingrained bigotry. This is the movie equivalent of an Ikea catalogue that promises to fix everything that’s wrong with your life if only you buy these cheap plastic but colorful and fun doodads. Except this is a Nancy Meyers movie, and she is nowhere near as downscale or as obvious as an Ikea catalogue. The Intern is a walk through Pottery Barn or John Lewis that only obliquely suggests that this $295 decorative birdcage will soothe your soul.
That said, The Intern is not an unpleasant way to spend a couple of hours. There is gentle charm and pleasant humor and an unexpectedly endearing chemistry between Robert De Niro (American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook) as 70something Ben and Anne Hathaway (Interstellar, Rio 2) as 30something Jules: he goes to work as a “senior intern” at her online fashion store, About the Fit, which is a nice way for older retired people to keep busy and feel useful, though it’s probably taking jobs away from young people who could really use a break. (Ben doesn’t need the money. Dear god, his brownstone! In Brooklyn! People in Nancy Meyers movies never work because they need money but because they are seeking personal fulfillment. Which is also a nice idea, and wouldn’t it be nice if we could all do that?)
It’s gratifying to see a film gets some things so right about a woman’s career situation: Jules is crazily overworked because she is so clever and creative and ambitious, and she enjoys being in charge, which means her company is doing so very well, and yet she’s still treated by others — like the CEO candidates her investors insist she interview, even though she is loathe to give up control — like a she’s a child or an idiot. Unfortunately, all of Jules’s issues are dealt with secondhand: we only ever hear about her problems as she complains to and commiserates with Ben; we never actually witness them. About the Fit may be Jules’s dream, but The Intern — as the title suggests — is Ben’s story. And even though he is a helpful avuncular presence and a wonderful new friend to all the young people at About the Fit (including Jules), the solutions he ultimately recommends to everyone aren’t going to be much help in the long run… which The Intern utterly fails to recognize. The movie ends, naturally, on what is intended to be a high note with the solution, as suggested by Ben, to all of Jules’s problems, but this “solution” isn’t going to change anything at all. In fact, Jules’s problems — which cycle through a crisis that has arisen from not having enough time to spend with her husband and their little girl — are back where they started. But hey, everyone got a hug and a shoulder to cry on along the way!
I’m sure this isn’t what Meyers (It’s Complicated, The Holiday) intends at all, but all the niceness of The Intern amounts to the same well-intentioned but unrealistic advice I suspect many young people have been on the receiving end of from older people who simply don’t have an inkling of the challenges the world throws at us today. We appreciate the thoughtfulness, and that you want to help, but, yeah, you kinda really don’t get it.