As much as a film by, say, Quentin Tarantino, David Fincher or even Michael Bay is distinctly one of their films, a film by Nancy Meyers is quintessentially A Nancy Meyers Film. Meyers’ films drip with white privilege, in this case not a pejorative. The characters tend to have money, and likely a career that places them in positions of authority. The settings lean towards immaculate and straight out of high-end showrooms. It’s easy to knock Meyers’ films, but it’s worth pointing out that Meyers is the most successful female writer/director of all time. There’s an audience for her work. And while the consumption of a director’s work doesn’t correlate with quality (see: Tyler Perry), it’s worth pointing out that the superficial elements of Meyers’ films tend to get more attention than the focus on relationships that form the core of these stories. These stories also tend to draw top-notch talent; her leads have included Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep and Steve Martin.
For her latest film, The Intern, Meyers places Robert De Niro in the veteran actor slot. De Niro’s an interesting choice. On paper, it’s hard to picture De Niro fitting into the character of Ben Whittaker. Ben is a retired widower who’s bored with his life because he’s still full of enthusiastic life. It’s a far cry from the grumpier characters De Niro tends to play at this point, but Meyers is able to tap into a warmth in De Niro that’s rarely utilized. When Ben comes across an ad for a senior intern program, he eagerly signs up. The internship places him at About The Fit, a burgeoning Internet start-up created by thirtysomething Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway).
Ben, of course, is assigned to Jules, who has no interest in the intern program. She doesn’t actively spite Ben or the program, but she proceeds to ignore him, so Ben begins to learn from others how the company works, which eventually grabs Jules’ attention. Eventually, he’s working as Jules’ driver and occasional confidante, something she desperately needs as she faces pressure to bring in an experienced CEO into the company she created. Ben and Jules forge a relationship, and thankfully it never approaches May-December territory. Ben simply admires Jules for her business acumen and toughness, while Jules admires Ben’s positivity and work ethic.
Meyers’ relaxed approach to the film’s core relationship carries over to the performances. Even though Jules is frequently high-strung, juggling work with a husband and young daughter, Hathaway seems more relaxed here than she has in years. De Niro’s equally relaxed performance creates a relationship where these two are believable as friends, without any romantic or even familial attachments.
While The Intern is technically a comedy, it’s of a gentle sort that works with the good-natured tone of the film. One of the few potential flashes of drama comes when Ben is initially assigned to Jules; he’s told that she’s scary, but it turns out that she’s simply incredibly busy, performing at a near-superhuman level day-to-day. She’s managed to take a good idea and turn it into a fully-functioning business with 220 employees in the span of 18 months. Even then, she still shows her care for the business she’s created, the employees who help bring her vision to life, and her family. Even the film’s actual brush with drama, where Jules’ marriage shows signs of ruin, is handled in a way that’s easily resolved. None of this is realistic, but it doesn’t need to be.
The Intern is not a film I’d recommend for just any audience. Like many directors with a particular brand, it’s best seen by those who like Meyers’ previous films, or those who like the tone they’ve seen in trailers. Audiences who turned out for It’s Complicated, The Holiday, and Something’s Gotta Give, though, will likely love this. It’s a Nancy Meyers film, through and through.