Ten years ago, Anne Hathaway played the personal assistant to high-strung fashion magazine mogul Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) in “The Devil Wears Prada”. Now, a decade later, Hathaway is the passionate, stressed-out, bike-riding-at-the-office boss of her own successful online fashion company and 72-year-old Robert De Niro is “The Intern” – though he quickly becomes much more than that. The latest comedy from writer/director Nancy Meyers (“It’s Complicated”, “Something’s Gotta Give”) isn’t about two people falling in love, but rather two people needing and finding a new best friend.
De Niro’s Ben Whitaker was a successful businessman for 40 years – much of that spent at a now extinct phone book company. A widower and recently retired, Ben is looking for new purpose in his life. He reads an ad for a senior citizen internship program at the internet start-up “About the Fit”, run by Hathaway’s workaholic Jules Ostin. After a few interviews, Ben is chosen for the program, and he’s picked to be Jules’ personal intern. At first she’s not thrilled with the idea of having to interact closely with a man twice her age. But as situations begin to develop with Jules, both professionally and with her personal life, she comes to rely on Ben, and he gets more involved with his new position, bringing some much-needed stability into her modern, out-of-control life.
The first-half dialogue is light, brisk and occasionally sharp, hitting on topics such as old school vs. new school and sexism in the workplace. A couple of situations are played-up for big laughs, including Ben’s sessions with company masseuse Fiona (Rene Russo) as well as an “Ocean’s Eleven” style sequence that’s a bit over-played. The tone changes dramatically in the second half, and because of that, and the investment you now have in these characters, the final half hour packs a pretty good emotional punch.
Over the course of “The Intern”, through a series of events and situations, ranging from humorous to heartbreaking, and all quite authentic, these two somewhat lost souls realize how much they need each other. There are numerous scenes in which De Niro and Hathaway are alone together on screen, and they all generate a special kind of magic. De Niro is charismatic, charming, confident and heartwarming as a seasoned gentleman with depth and class. And Hathaway is consistently believable as a woman struggling to balance her business and family responsibilities. They may just be the best movie pair of the year. And, for me, this is the strongest substantial performance of Hathaway’s career.
Meyers has pulled-off something rare these days for a big-studio Hollywood comedy. She’s overcome a fairly formulaic premise by combining a smart, heartfelt script with great work from two knockout leads. Here’s hoping the Critics Choice and Golden Globes voters keep it in mind for several of the Comedy categories. I had a feeling that “The Intern” could be something special and it exceeded my expectations.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “The Intern” gets an A-.
Running Time: 121 min.