A Nancy Meyers production isn’t just a movie, it’s a cream-toned, cashmere-swaddled universe unto itself—a grown-lady Narnia where there’s a lid for every mildly neurotic pot, fresh-cut flowers for every ethically sourced side table, and a happy resolution to every First World problem her radiantly lit protagonists can supply. If you’ve seen Something’s Gotta Give, It’s Complicated, What Women Want, The Parent Trap, or The Holiday—they’ve collectively earned more than $1 billion worldwide, so the odds are good that you have—you’ll undoubtedly have certain expectations of her latest, and they will almost certainly be met. The Intern (not to be confused with the similarly themed 2013 Owen Wilson–Vince Vaughn vehicle, The Internship) casts Robert De Niro as Ben Whittaker, a gruff but lovable 70-year-old retiree left at loose ends after the death of his wife. His days are bookended by morning Starbucks runs and frozen lasagna for one, but yoga and Mandarin lessons and tai chi in the park don’t adequately fill the lonely hours in between. When he sees an ad for “senior interns” at a booming e-commerce start-up in Brooklyn, he applies and lands a plum spot as a personal envoy/errand runner/generational sounding board to Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway), the stylish, thirtyish entrepreneur who runs it all. She’s whimsical—we know this because she wheels around her loftlike office on a white bicycle and sometimes takes customer-service calls, just to check in with her client base. But she’s also overworked and overwhelmed by the conflicting demands of her family, which includes a caustic mother, a restless househusband (“they prefer ‘stay-at-home dad’ now”), and a little daughter she hardly sees. Can Ben bring his gentle geriatric wisdom to bear on both sides, and find fresh meaning in his own life at the same time? Can you order that couch from Anthropologie? By the end of two breezy if sometimes belabored hours, the first question will be duly answered, if not the second.
The Intern skims both humor and pathos without ever quite settling on either; even in an apparent crisis, the tone remains as plush and soft-cornered as one of Meyers’ ubiquitous throw pillows (though it’s also knowing enough to toss off a good joke about them). Hathaway’s take on the underwritten Jules is refreshingly unshowy, but De Niro seems a little lost; his Ben is muted to the point of evanescence, and a moment where he talks to himself in the mirror—he’s been told that Jules distrusts anyone who doesn’t blink—feels like a bizarro-world echo of his iconic Taxi Driver scene. It’s like watching a lion who’s been defanged and given a tofu bone to gnaw on. Then again, asking for sharper edges in a movie that can hardly find a person of color in New York City—let alone a pigeon or a poorly situated apartment—is probably futile. Because it’s not actually New York we’re seeing at all. It’s Nancy’s Narnia, and as much a fantasy as she wants it to be. B–