THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Nancy Meyers is known for writing and directing comedies about romantic relationships: It's Complicated, The Holiday, Something's Gotta Give, etc. With The Intern, she takes on a different kind of relationship – a professional one that bleeds over into the personal. Packed with her usual sharp wit and celebration of upper-class style, the movie perhaps tries to take on more than it should. But while there are some weak spots, the stuff that works does so magnificently. The Intern hits DVD and Blu-Ray combo pack on January 19.
Robert DeNiro plays Ben Whittaker, a 70-year-old retiree and widower. He signs up to take part in a “senior intern program” at an online fashion website. Upon arriving, it's clear that he's slightly out of his element, surrounded as he is by a lot of hip, young, tech savvy people. The problem becomes more pronounced when he's assigned to work directly under the company's type-A founder, Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway). Ben does the only thing he knows how to do, which is to work diligently and conscientiously. Eventually, he starts to earn Jules' trust. She's overwhelmed by the demands of running a rapidly-rising business and comes to rely on his rock-solid presence.
The Intern offers DeNiro his best role in years. Ben is a guy who possesses an unshakable old-school work ethic. Initially, the others view him as an out-of-touch old guy, but soon they're inspired by his ceaseless dedication. DeNiro infuses the character with an important quality: Ben's security in his own competence. He doesn't view himself as a relic, but rather as an active older person who still has something valuable to contribute, most notably a ton of practical experience. There are many wonderful scenes between DeNiro and Hathaway, who does a terrific job showing how Jules' preconceived notions slowly melt away the more she starts to pay attention to her intern.
The story is at its best when it challenges the audience's notions of age and ability. It's not only a tribute to the contributions older folks can make, but also a portrait of how one person acting with extreme professionalism can inspire everyone around them to raise their game. The Intern is often funny, but it never plays Ben as a joke. Meyers values him as a character, instead finding humor in the way all the other characters react to him, realize they're wrong, and engage in course correction. On a subtextual level, this is a theme that applies strongly to Hollywood, where “hot” young directors are often favored over those, like Meyers, who have spent decades honing their craft.
The Intern falters a bit when it moves away from the workplace. A romance between Ben and the company masseuse (Rene Russo) is underdeveloped and goes nowhere. A caper Ben and the younger interns try to pull off feels a little too wacky in comparison to everything else. And while it still works, the plot eventually finds Ben helping Jules with problems within her marriage. That dominates the final half hour of the film, moving it slightly away from its core focus.
Ultimately, though, The Intern is a smart, funny, and surprisingly touching film, anchored by first-rate performances from DeNiro and Hathaway. What an entertaining reminder that age is just a number and that wisdom counts for everything.
( out of four)
The Intern arrives on DVD and Blu-Ray combo pack on January 19. There are three short bonus features, each running about five minutes. “Learning From Experience” finds Meyers and her stars reflecting on the movie's central theme. DeNiro, in particular, offers insight into how his character approaches a new work experience. “Designs on Life” focuses on set and art direction, with a look at Meyers' tendency to give her films a visually elegant style. “The Three Interns” centers on actors Zach Pearlman, Adam Devine, and Jason Orley, who play Ben's cohorts. They talk about working with DeNiro, even busting out some imitations. For his part, Orley also discusses how he went from being Nancy Meyers' real-life intern to making his acting debut with this movie.
While short, all the extras are fun to watch and offer added value to the main feature. Sound and picture quality on the Blu-Ray are outstanding.
The Intern is rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and brief strong language. The running time is 2 hours and 1 minute.
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