Nancy Meyers’ consistent ability to write and direct a film that appeals to the “older” demographic, yet somehow transcends well beyond that to people of all ages has persisted with her latest, The Intern. A semi unlikely tale about a startup company called About the Fit, run by a plucky late 20s/early 30s woman named Jules Ostin, that decides to start a senior outreach program via an internship, The Intern is the type of film only Meyers could conceive.
With an opening scene that could just as easily take place in Los Angeles as opposed to Prospect Park, we are introduced to Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro), a born and bred Brooklynite who suddenly feels he’s “not hip enough” to live there anymore, and is now partaking in tai chi lessons in the park to pass the time during his so far unfulfilling retirement. As a widower, Ben doesn’t find as much joy as he had hoped as a result of the ever-waning novelty of having his time all to himself. Plus, being a “company man” for forty years of his life, he can’t seem to occupy enough hours in the day to feel stimulated, regardless of how many Mandarin courses or around the world trips he takes. And, to add to his desire to be out of the neighborhood for at least eight hours of the day, a nearby female neighbor of his, Patty (Linda Lavin), keeps cornering him to go on another date every time she sees him out on the street. All of this inspires him to apply for the senior internship advertised on a flier near his home, which insists on video applications only–already telling of the employment divide that has occurred since the last time he was in the working world.
This aspect of the application process does not deter him, however, and he quickly pours his heart out to a video camera to explain why he was born to work, to be a part of a team–in short, that he’s here to serve a company. In many ways, this desire–nay, need–to work is in and of itself anathema to the current generation, which seems to be looking for as many easy way outs as possible–and perhaps rightly so, considering they’ll never be able to attain even remotely the same level of “the American dream” that their parents did. Ben, on the other hand, is the last of a breed willing to roll up his shirtsleeves and get his hands dirty.
Jules, unfortunately, can’t see this upon first meeting him, writing him off as an old fogey who is merely making her company look good for its “charity work.” Hathaway serves the role well, pulling off yet another version of her own intern, played in The Devil Wears Prada, Andrea Sachs. Just as she did with that character, Hathaway imbues Jules with a high-stress, frazzled aura that makes her too busy to concern herself with Ben, even though he is her assigned intern and has promised she’ll let him know when she has something for him to do.
This makes for a number of rather sad scenes as Ben checks his work email every day only to find there are no messages, least of all from Jules. Not letting her lack of realization for his genius get him down, Ben finds other ways to make himself useful: getting to know about photography here, helping out with his opinion there and, most importantly, cleaning up a table that Jules can’t stand walking past each day because there is so much clutter on it. Once this gets her attention, she’s finally willing to let him help in more meaningful ways. Ben is, in fact, one of the only people at About the Fit privy to the possibility that Jules will have to hire a CEO to be in charge so that things can run more smoothly, thereby losing her status as “the ultimate boss.” Seeing how much pain this is causing her, and how hard she’s working to make sure everything goes right, Ben is even more surprised to find that she has a husband and daughter one day when he drops her at home (he lands the job of driver after spotting her original one drinking on duty and then telling him to beat it).
Once Ben gets even more insight into her life, Jules freaks out a bit and asks her assistant to transfer him to another department, not wanting him to get too close. She quickly regrets this decision when she 1) forgets that she made it and 2) his replacement is a terrible driver/much less “with it” senior intern named Doris (Celia Weston). She immediately goes to find Ben getting coffee for everyone else and apologizes, explaining that she was afraid he was getting too close to her personal life, and seeing “the real her.” Ben, standup man that he is, forgives her and agrees to go back to working for her.
From this point forward, more focus is put on the struggles Jules endures with balancing her work and family life, her husband, Matt (Anders Holm), bearing the brunt of caring for their daughter, Paige (JoJo Kushner). Elsewhere, Jules’ rapport with her mother is a constant source of contention and unease, which leads to one of the most humorous scenes in the movie, during which Ben and three other employees must break into Jules’ mom’s house to delete an email Jules accidentally sent to her with the subject line “She’s A Terrorist.”
All in all, it amounts to Ben having nothing but admiration for Jules, and her seeming effortless ability to deal with it all. This is precisely why he can’t take it when he catches Matt kissing another woman on the way to driving Paige back home from a birthday party in the park (where he puts all the other judgmental moms in their place). It is around this juncture in the film that Meyers really drives home the message of her film: women have well-surpassed men in their success and are paying dearly for it by having to deal with little boys who never grew up, and now act out because of how threatened they are.
Indeed, during one scene when Jules is celebrating with Ben and the other three men who helped delete the email from her mom’s computer, she remarks, “We’re all from the take your daughter to work day generation. We were told we could be anything. But it doesn’t really seem like you guys were nurtured in that way.” This is, at least, Jules’ explanation for why there is such an extreme divide between men of Ben’s generation and men of hers. Ultimately, Meyers isn’t just addressing the tag line of the movie, “Experience never gets old,” but, rather, the lack women have when it comes to finding an equal anymore.