If I could live within the universe of a single filmmaker, I would probably choose Nancy Meyers. For the two hours or so when I watch one of her movies, the noise of the world goes silent and her soothing presence reassures me that good people and common decency will ultimately prevail. Her latest cinematic creation, “The Intern,” continues her grand tradition of optimistic wisdom worth embracing with wide arms and an open heart.
In a cynical age, dismissing such a hopeful vision as naive or simplistic would be all too easy, but Meyers’ film never feels facile. If “The Intern” seems like sunshine and rainbows, it’s merely a retraining of the eye to see the sunshine through the clouds and rainbows through the rainstorm. Her characters know pain and must draw the strength from within to come out on top.
Meyers’ protagonist of choice is Ben Whittaker, played by Robert DeNiro as the polar opposite of Travis Bickle or Jake LaMotta. A 70-year-old widower, Ben tires of retirement and looks for a way to become needed once more. He finds that at About the Fit, an e-retail start-up with an internship program for senior citizens. After an inspiring video lands him the position, the old company man quickly charms the entire company. Ben even manages to command a trio of younger workers, including Adam DeVine’s chummy Jason, into a posse that Meyers often photographs like the boys in an “Entourage” episode.
The only person unenthused by Ben’s presence is the site’s embattled founder and CEO Jules Ostin, who is played by Anne Hathaway. She had the right idea at the right time yet struggles to inspire confidence among investors. They think a more seasoned executive can help sustain the company’s growth, and try as she might, they do not buy that Jules has the business acumen of a Mark Zuckerberg.
Still, she is an enormously capable businesswoman just trying to find a more sustainable balance between the demands of work and home life. Ben sees right through her smoke screens, and it absolutely terrifies Jules.
But, in classic Nancy Meyers fashion, Jules’ wall of resistance comes crumbling down once she recognizes Ben’s earnestness and gentility. Their working relationship quickly bleeds over into their lives out of the office as each can provide each other a valuable asset missing from their lives. Ben gets a sense of purpose to guide his days; Jules, meanwhile, receives a boost of self-confidence from her intern as she navigates some very tricky professional and personal straits.
DeNiro and Hathaway both set their charm phasers to stun for this May-December friendship. (Or, as a teen might put it, their acting makes Ben and Jules #SquadGoals.) They draw out the good from one another, exposing and enabling the warmth in every page of Meyers’ script. “The Intern” would flop if their performances felt anything less than completely sincere, but not to worry – their belief in the positivity of the story shines through.
The film does boast more depth than the gushy emotions of a Pinterest board decked out with inspirational quotes, too. Meyers engages heavily with issues facing working women today, certainly never condemning them but also not overlooking the big obstacles and challenges that still remain. “The Intern” packs a number of hilarious, touching, and moving moments into its two hours, though one in particular merits singling out. When Ben has to take Jules’ daughter to a birthday party, some mean moms make a snarky comment about the absent worker bee. Ben, ever the gentleman, quickly responds that they should just be proud to know someone as successful as Jules.
That’s the kind of world I want to live in. One where people strive to lift someone else up rather than putting others down, even if they deserve it. Sure, Nancy Meyers’ films get a lot of attention for their nice decor, but the scenery is nothing compared to her kind-hearted characters. We’d all be wise to adorn our lives with more of their affectionate attributes. A- /