Works Well Enough
2 & ½ popcorns
By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer
Point of disclosure: Bobby De Niro and I go way back … two years before I began reviewing films. It was in “Mean Streets” (1973), when he played Johnny Boy, that I first noticed and commended his thespic talent. Since then, I’d like to think I’ve proved an encouraging factor. I don’t know…he’s never really said anything to me about it. I hope he’s not angry or something. Commenting on how he’s segued from strong dramatic leads to ever-available character actor, I’ve intended nothing but the highest respect. In “The Intern,” he personifies his staying power.
The truth is, without the storied resume that has made him a national treasure, he’d hardly be as effective as Ben Whittaker, a 70-year-old widower and former corporate wiz looking to launch a second career in the dot.com world of an online clothing company. Arriving at About The Fit just in time to help Anne Hathaway’s fashion wunderkind, Jules Ostin, navigate her stellar startup through its growing pains, he does avuncular and paternal like nobody’s business.
Now, I don’t want Mr. De Niro to take it the wrong way when I say he has gone from Godfather to Fairy Godfather. Quickly mollifying, it’s the sort of role Cary Grant might play, like in “The Bishop’s Wife” (1947), when his angelic presence opportunely descends to sort out the mortal problems of Bishop Henry Brougham (David Niven) and his pretty wife Julia (Loretta Young). Hey, Bob, Cary Grant. That’s good stuff. Hardly a day goes by that we don’t opine how nice it would be if we had someone, divine or otherwise, to help guide us through life’s uncertainties.
Of course it’s especially fortunate if said mentor also happens to be good company. With Bobby fitting that bill, it occurs that there is a whole category of film whereupon the drawing factor is our desire to spend a little time with a perceived personality whose company we’ve come to enjoy. Granted, I understand that few of us are lucky enough to actually have famous friends of such assured good nature. So, no harm in renting them for a couple of hours.
In that vein, to quote every other film critic from Kodiak, Alaska, to Key West, Florida, “The Intern” gets the job done…well enough, in fact, to almost forgive the movie’s shortcomings. This includes a predictability inherent to the plot, several hackneyed conventions and the typical gaggle of co-workers intrigued by the charismatic deus ex machina plopped down among them.
However, standing out among that typical cast of usual suspects, Anne Hathaway partially ameliorates the cliché in a role often overlooked in these silicon days. Whereas female entrepreneurs are routinely depicted as having made their fortunes as flapjack tycoons (“Imitation of Life”–1934), restaurateurs (“Mildred Pierce”–1945) and yes, fashion designers (“Mahogany”–1975), here Ms. gets credit for conquering the binary code world. And, adding a nuance to the role, she’s neither single nor divorced, but married, happily…or so we believe.
Coming into this seemingly perfect picture courtesy of a landmark intern program for golden agers, Ben soon discovers that, despite appearances, there is trouble in River City. First off, there are the standard, employee relationship problems, including an office romance or two, just begging for his counsel. More importantly, About The Fit has grown like Topsy, and a trusted adviser feels it’ll take an outsider with no sentimental subjectivity to bring the firm to the Fortune 500. Such a transition, from founder and CEO to second in command, won’t be easy for our super girl.
But alas, she may have another reason for abdicating the throne. Possessed of a sixth sense, Ben is hip to the jive. Unfortunately, initial shortsightedness on Jules’s part delays De Niro’s business godsend from tackling the really big issue. This is good. Thus prompted into a senior citizen version of Robert Morse’s rise to prominence in “How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying” (1967), old Ben is finally noticed for the resource that he is.
There are a couple turns, a few unsurprising twists and, as is perfunctorily inserted in dramedies of this sort, one too many subplots. But that’s OK. This is the filmic equivalent of the comfortable living room chair. We’d be upset if director Nancy Myers went artsy-craftsy by messing with the familiar moralisms and resolutions we expect.
This is sweet, but not too cloying, and pretty funny. Filled with bright and shiny faces and one engagingly craggy smile, it’s the ideal palate cleanser you view between headier and more challenging works. Still, the main reason for seeing “The Intern” is Bobby, a persona so ingrained in our culture that it causes some folks to actually believe he’s an old friend.
“The Intern,” rated PG-13, is a Warner Bros. release directed by Nancy Myers and stars Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway and Rene Russo. Running time: 121 minutes