70 year-old Brooklyn man Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) has been retired for quite some time. After his wife Molly died, he attempted to occupy himself with traveling, golf, cooking lessons, yoga, pinochle, and attendance at plenty of funerals. But not having a precise schedule has left a hole in his life that desperately needs to be filled.
When he spies an opportunity for a Senior Internship Program with About the Fit, an ecommerce fashion startup in existence for approximately 18 months, he excitedly submits the necessary applications and video introduction. After a few awkward interviews (“Where do you see yourself in ten years?”), Ben is given the job, more than qualifying to serve as an assistant to tough-as-nails founder and CEO Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway), who is obligated to keep the intern around for a minimum of six weeks. And Jules’ unpleasantness increases when her advisors and investors urge her to consider hiring a more experienced executive officer to handle the company’s lightning-fast expansion and rapid customer influx.
Although the basic premise isn’t too far removed from “The Devil Wears Prada,” with Hathaway replacing Streep and De Niro replacing Hathaway, the setup is far less ominous and unusually standard – or, perhaps, entirely expected for a Nancy Meyers picture. Routinely permeating the mild misadventures of a bustling office space is an age clash, in which hi-tech gadgetry befuddles – but doesn’t deter – the old-fashioned intern, and where outdated chivalry and conformity fail to fit with modern casualness and trendiness. This provides light comic relief rather than conflict, which is strangely absent from nearly every one of Ben’s interactions. At first he’s out-of-place and underutilized, but soon enough he goes above and beyond to improve the lives of his coworkers and tidy up the workplace (literally and in its operating efficiency), like a kindhearted guardian angel. He’s even allowed the obligatory romance, here with in-house masseuse Fiona Farwell (the age-appropriate Rene Russo).
Although Jules is the only one to experience personal setbacks and business complications, this drama is at a consistently temperate level (separated by a few amusing moments, including revelry at a bar and Jules walking Ben through the steps of populating his Facebook profile). Parental difficulties, familial aggravations, and enterprising obstacles are all approached with kid gloves. The script is about the most formulaic feel-good romantic comedy imaginable, save for a few decidedly questionable ideas about relationship problems and their overly convenient remedies. Despite the airy, overlong screenplay, the very notion that a highly accomplished, elderly professional would want to specifically serve under a gang of inexperienced, unorthodox amateurs (regardless of their overnight successes) seems utterly humiliating. And, though De Niro is watchable in practically anything, it’s equivalently demeaning that such a revered actor is resorting to involvement in such generic, uninspired stuff as “The Intern.”