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Review: Shallow drama weighs down overlong, unlikely 'Intern'
Comedies usually run 90 minutes, because they simply want to amuse, and laughing usually runs out of gas after an hour and a half. Dramas generally run on for two hours, because they have a heavier workload in aiming to deal with important issues — and that can take a while. Nancy Meyers' light amusement "The Intern" actually lasts a little more than two hours. As it tries to sustain conceits beyond lightweight wit and into ageism and important life lessons and weeping and hugging, it feels like an eternity.
The film resembles a stretched out and only slightly modernized version of the classic workplace comedy "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." This time the 30-ish woman at the center of the story, Jules (Anne Hathaway), owns the workplace where it's set, an e-commerce clothing boutique called "About the Fit." The strong but lovable veteran she befriends is Ben (Robert De Niro), a 70-year-old retired executive who joins her company's new "senior internship program." In days, he works his way up to being her personal chauffeur, business adviser and lifestyle mentor.
De Niro, who has never before smiled nonstop in a film, plays this fountain of avuncular wisdom as paternalistic as Lou Grant and almost as gruff, but in a nice way. Formally attired among his scruffy-looking new teammates, Ben explains that the reason he carries a fresh handkerchief in his jacket every day is "to lend it" to a teary woman. He counsels another befuddled guy how to make up with a colleague he romantically offended by sleeping with her bestie, and instructs a third that he'd make a better impression if he bothered to tuck in his shirt.
Old school rules the day in writer/director Meyers' senior-centric work (like "It's Complicated" and "Something's Gotta Give"). But because this is a 21st-century take on TV's 1970s hit, Ben calls the granddaughter-aged Jules "Boss."
Meyers puts the pair into a cheerful story designed to make us feel nice, and nothing more. It spoon-feeds us vanilla fiction to the point of overdose. Perfectionist Jules has rocketed to national success in just 18 months, a rags to riches Internet success story that Mark Zuckerberg would envy. She's initially suspicious of the company's new recruit ("too observant," she grouses).
But as he wins the welcome of her little angel daughter and stay-at-home husband, Jules turns to him for the kind of advice she never gets from her unseen mother who, throughout repeated phone calls, never says "I love you." Unfortunately, none of the challenges Jules faces are deep enough to provide dramatic ammunition. Her home life experiences a minor dilemma; an accomplished potential CEO to carry her start-up forward may have some flaws.
None of it builds to a meaningful crisis. Nor, beyond two naughty scenes with Rene Russo as the corporate masseuse giving De Niro stimulating rubdowns, is it especially amusing. Ben, who joined the millennial crowd because he was tired of retirement tedium, would feel the same watching this movie. I hope he has a hankie handy; he'll be bored to tears.
2 out of four stars
Rating: PG-13 for some suggestive content and brief strong language