Nancy Meyers has carved out a niche in the movie world. She started in the 1980s as the screenwriter of Private Benjamin and Baby Boom, two movies that looked at women and their struggles in paternalistic worlds. Both movies became huge hits that spawned TV series. She switched to the paternal viewpoint with Father of the Bride in the 1990s, and had another major hit. In 1998 she became a hyphenate, writing and directing her movies, starting with the remake of The Parent Trap. She’s only directed one movie that she didn’t write, but it was definitely one in her wheelhouse – 2000’s What Women Want. Since then she’s done Something’s Gotta Give, The Holiday (a personal favorite of mine), and It’s Complicated. In some ways she’s like Frank Capra, whose work spawned the term Capraesque. While the details change, you pretty much know what you’re going to get when you go to a Nancy Meyers movie. Since she does it extremely well, that’s not a bad thing. She mines comedy out of characters and relationships rather than simple jokes, which allows her to tug on your heartstrings even as she tickles your funny bone.
After a break of 6 years, she’s back with a new movie, The Intern. This time her jumping off point is the difference between old school business and the modern economy. The central character is Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro), a former executive who finds, after the death of his wife, that retirement is too empty for him. When he sees a flyer posted in his New York neighborhood for a senior intern program, he applies, even though he must do it by uploading a video of himself. The company behind the program is an on-line clothing store that was started by Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway) at her kitchen table. It’s grown in a couple of years to a major concern.
Ben is hired to be Jules’ intern, though she’s not as supportive of the program as her HR people. (The interview vignettes are fun, especially when one young guy asks Ben where he sees himself being in ten years. Ben: “When I’m 80?”) Ben brings the quiet confidence of experience with him, along with classic business style in the suits he wears and the briefcase he’s had for forty years. With the company’s expansion, Jules is being overwhelmed, and she’s worried Ben might overstep the boundaries she’s put up. But she slowly comes to see Ben can help her handle problems – even some problems she can’t face.
.A few years ago I felt pain for De Niro. He was stuck doing Meet The Parents and its interminable sequels. Now, after Silver Linings Playbook, Limitless, and American Hustle, he’s recovered his mojo. Ben may not be a great role, but De Niro is great in the role, and in some ways it mirrors his position in films now – the classy vet who shows the young guns what acting truly is. After dramatic turns in The Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar, along with her Oscar-winning turn in Les Miserables, it’s good to see Anne Hathaway in a light comedy again. It cleanses the palate like sherbet in between the heavier courses of a meal.
Rene Russo stands out in the supporting cast as the company masseuse who gives Ben hope for a second chapter in his personal history. With this and the Thor movies, it’s good to see her back in front of the camera. Adam Devine, known mostly for the Pitch Perfect films, plays one of the employees who befriends Ben and who ends up being mentored by him. JoJo Kushner, who plays Jules’ daughter Paige, is a standout as well.
There’s decency to the characters in Meyers films that you often see in real life but is usually missing in films, and the stories are hopeful without being saccharine. She also develops the smaller characters so they become real, not simply window dressing to the main characters. In those ways she matches Capra. The Intern isn’t the best that Meyers has done, but it’s still better than what often passes for comedy in Hollywood films