Who knew Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway still had this movie in them? De Niro (“Taxi Driver”) plays Ben Whittaker, a cute old man looking to re-engage with a brave new world; Anne Hathaway (“The Devil Wears Prada”) plays Jules Ostin, a 30-year-old corporate people-person, beset on all sides by the pressures of an environment that calls for 30 hours in a day. The magnetism of these two wonderful human beings bleeds into every aspect of the movie, shimmering over the movie’s molasses plot and dumbed-down dialogue until this otherwise forgettable comedy glows with peace and warmth. The two of them conjure a universe where people come before business.
We know De Niro as a man of hardness, but he plays softness so convincingly, the audience wonders if maybe De Niro was really a sweetheart all along. Through all those years of playing the antagonist, no one ever gave him a chance to be gentle. This was probably his last chance, and he knocks it out of the park. From start to finish, “The Intern” is a conspiracy to make us fall in love with Robert De Niro all over again.
“The Intern” falls perfectly into the golden center of Hathaway movies, more serious than “Ella Enchanted” or her more forgettable rom-coms, less serious than “The Dark Knight Rises” or “Les Miserables.” “The Intern” fits snugly between “The Princess Diaries” and “The Devil Wears Prada.” Hathaway plays the suffer-smiling people-person as an island in an ocean of personal and bureaucratic turmoil. De Niro paddles his little boat up to her island to dock, and it’s exactly what both of them need.
De Niro is the chewy center of this candy comedy. He draws the directionless to him, and the cast, fraught with 20-somethings, exchange competencies with him with remarkable ease in mutual learning experiences. The best emotional comedy flows with unnoticed direction – friction that could have been, but wasn’t. “The Intern” navigates the glaciers of its terrain marvelously. Hathaway spends a large part of the movie looking for a CEO, and the audience can’t help but imagine De Niro climactically filling this role. The movie is smarter than the audience here; it doesn’t give us what we think we want. It gives us De Niro as the unassuming emotional CEO, who offers guidance when prompted, but never does anything to take power away from Hathaway. In many ways, this is the movie our decade has been waiting for.
Contrary to the trailer, Hathaway is the protagonist, not De Niro. The dialogue isn’t perfect, but one major win is its fearlessness with the F-word. Feminism isn’t leveraged as a prop. Instead, we get a gentle reminder to take a step back and ask ourselves how gender politics are working in context, and what we would feel if we were in Hathaway’s shoes.
Though young men get the narrative shaft in this movie, it’s nice that we, the protagonist princes of Hollywood, can get the experience of being left-of-center-stage without undue scolding. The trailer utterly fails here. Sure, there’s the one scene where Hathaway compares her 20-something employees unfavorably to De Niro, but that’s the worst scene in the movie. Judgement and interpersonal criticism, thankfully, do not pierce to the gooey heart of this comedy.
Orbiting that gooey center are several fleshy minor arcs. Zack Pearlman (“Mulaney”), newcomer Christina Scherer and “Workaholics” stars Adam DeVine and Anders Holm each get time in the sun as the people whose lives revolve around Hathaway’s. De Niro handles each with care. DeVine rambunctiously lowers the cast’s mean IQ, but maybe the movie needed that.
This movie’s trailer was dreadful, totally overlooking the centrality of Hathaway and the warmth of intergenerational friendship. The ill-toned hype will punish it at the box-office and leave it an underrated gem in the annals of IMDB.
It’s true that the ending is a bit heavyhanded. This is a comedy that teaches to forgive, and some audience members will disagree with it. But if you’re the kind of person who can sidestep the political dance, you’ll come back to this movie more than once, and you’ll like it more each time.