★ ★ ★ ½
Nancy Meyers isn’t known for making great cinema, but she is known for making crowd-pleasing pictures that hit the sweet spot with her target audience (you know who you are), if not with critics. The previous five films she directed (It’s Complicated, The Holiday, Something’s Gotta Give, What Women Want, and The Parent Trap) have hauled in more than one billion dollars at the worldwide box office — and that doesn’t even include the additional movies she’s written or co-written, such as Father of the Bride or Private Benjamin. She is the highest-grossing female director of all time, and viewers tend to either love her cushy, relationship-oriented films or dismiss them as “chick flicks.” Her latest effort, The Intern, won’t change any of that.
“There’s a hole in my life and I need to fill it soon,” says 70-year-old retired widower Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) in the opening moments of Meyers’ sweet and exceedingly funny workplace comedy. Ben, who has tried yoga, cooking, gardening, and Mandarin classes, finally finds fulfillment when he applies for and receives a senior-intern position at an emerging online fashion retailer in Brooklyn. The start-up — called About the Fit — is run by Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway), a thirtyish entrepreneur whose career is taking off just as her personal life is falling apart. Jules’ long work hours are taking their toll at home: She rarely sees her young daughter, and all but ignores her stay-at-home husband (Anders Holm). She is also being pressured by investors to hire a seasoned CEO to take some of the pressure off her and ensure the company’s continued success. Enter gentle Ben, who, much to Jules’ dismay, is assigned to be her personal assistant. But while Ben doesn’t know how to turn on a computer or join Facebook, his maturity, life experience, and business acumen — he worked for decades overseeing the printing of telephone books — quickly prove to be assets to not just the company, but to Jules personally. Of course, crises arise (the funniest being when Ben and three of his young colleagues break into the home of Jules’ mom to delete an insulting text message accidentally sent by their boss), but since this is a Nancy Meyers film, they are easily resolved — perhaps too easily — with little damage incurred by the protagonists.
Meyers’ movies are never deep, but they are well-crafted and smartly written. She knows how to mine laughs from seemingly mundane situations, and always gets top-notch performances from her A-list casts. Oscar winners Hathaway and De Niro shine under her direction and exude great onscreen chemistry. It might have been a bit more fun if Jules had a little more Miranda Priestly nastiness in her for Ben to deal with (as Hathaway herself faced when she was the boss’s assistant in The Devil Wears Prada), but that’s a small complaint. Also winning are Rene Russo as an older but still sexy company masseuse; Linda Lavin as an aggressive friend out to snare Ben; and Adam DeVine, Zack Pearlman, and Jason Orley (the latter a one-time assistant to Meyers who is making his acting debut) as Ben’s tech-savvy but bumbling co-workers.
Fans of Meyers’ previous work will love her latest fluffy confection and devour it with glee, while nonfans will likely find it sickly sweet and hard to swallow. But moviegoers looking for a well-acted, entertaining, and genuinely funny film will find much to savor in this generation-gap comedy, which is suitable consumption for all ages.