“There’s a hole in my life, and I need to fill it… soon.” Those are the opening words of seventy year-old retiree Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro). In the new, light comedy from writer/director Nancy Meyers, The Intern, Ben is a widower who admits in an introductory voice-over that he liked the novelty of retirement when it first came his way – it felt as though he was playing hooky – but now he needs something to do. He wants to go back to work.
Anne Hathaway plays Jules Ostin, the founder of an online couture retailer in Brooklyn called About The Fit. She’s a go-getter, a woman with a stay-at-home husband and a movie-cute child, though she barely has time for either. In fact, she barely has time for anything as she flits from one company problem to another, micro-managing every aspect of the business as she goes. And even though home life may suffer, business is great. Because of Jules’ non-stop approach, the company’s five year goal was reached in nine months. Beginning with nothing and now with a staff of 216, Jules is a success. But she needs help in more ways than one.
Because of something new in the workplace called the Senior Intern Program, the affable and lonely retiree Ben applies for a position at Jules’ on-line company. “I had to call my nine year-old grandson to find out what a USB connector was,” Ben admits in an interview, though despite his lack of computer knowledge, he gets the position.
‘Business as usual is not our motto,” a young employee informs Ben, which is something the man can see for himself once he arrives at the office, dressed for success. After forty years as an exec in a company that published telephone books – something no longer needed in an engine-search age – Ben prefers a well-groomed look with suits and ties and polished shoes. Most of the employees around him are in tee-shirts and jeans. “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” asks another young employee during an orientation meeting. “You mean when I’m eighty?” asks Ben.
What follows is the meeting of two worlds, the elderly retiree and the youthful career woman. Out of the small handful of senior interns hired, Ben is the one assigned directly to Jules, and even though she has little time to talk to him, let alone give him tasks, they slowly, day by day, become friends. Ben is polite, soft spoken, and always willing to help. Everyone likes him. He notices all but is non-judgmental. He’s just happy to be there. But it soon becomes evident that despite the title, the film is not about Ben at all. It’s about Hathaway’s character and the conflicts of trying to have a family while running a company.
The issue with The Intern is one of conflict. There aren’t any; at least, not for Ben. Nothing appears to overly concern him and any work task assigned he easily meets. Other than his age, there are no hurdles for the character to climb. Even in the early days at the office, when Jules requests that Ben is reassigned as an intern to someone else, what should have felt like a betrayal of trust – Jules thinks he’s ‘too observant’ – is met with nothing more than a dismissive so-what shrug. Certainly the setup of being elderly and having no clue how to sign up for Facebook has its potential, but the film only uses Ben’s age as a means for some gentle laughs in the earlier moments. It’s as if the film isn’t really interested in Ben. He’s merely the pathway for us to get to know Jules.
With Nancy Meyers you basically know what you’re going to get – soft centers every time, and The Intern has one of the softest. “Something about you feels calm,” Jules tells Ben at a moment when all guards are down. “You center me.” And while Jules gets to take that deep breath in order to step back, look at her life, her company, and what needs to be done in order to hold her family together, the film has no real conclusion for Ben. He hovers around the office like a guardian angel, offering advice when it’s wanted, helping out when it’s needed, and stepping back when required, and that’s about all. Had the film invented a more urgent reason for Ben to have to go back to work instead of simply creating a need to want to be occupied in those twilight years, then perhaps his character would have felt more necessary, but when it basically ignores the character and instead concentrates on Jules, then you question what the film is really about. Perhaps it should have been called The Boss.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 121 Minutes Overall Rating: 5 (out of 10)