So, in Nancy Meyers’ comedy The Intern ** Robert De Niro, a reasonably wealthy, 70-year-old widower, gets an unpaid job as a senior intern at a Brooklyn fashion start-up run by stressed-out young Mum Anne Hathaway.
De Niro’s smiling, seen-it-all professionalism – he worked making phone books for 40 years – exerts a calm amid the internet storm of Anne’s suddenly fabulously go-getting life. She’s so busy she rides a bike around her vasty office and teaches the packers in the warehouse how to fold the paper and tie the ribbons.
However, De Niro is so one-note benevolent and forced-smiling in this you wonder if he could ever, you know, act. I know his descent from Raging Bull into benign, unfunny comedies has been long and well-noted but this is in a spectacular new realm of dullness as far as performances go. Hathaway does her peppy best, but ultimately descends into red-nosed crying. As do most of the women on screen, which, given this is directed by Meyers, isn’t actually very many.
In the current climate of cinematic suffragism, why isn’t this film more about the women? Why are the unpaid, interns all men? And why is there a scene where Hathaway sends her interns off to break into her Mum’s house so they can delete an email off the old lady’s computer? It’s possibly the worst sequence De Niro’s ever had to work in.
In fact, I wondered, why isn’t de Niro simply not de Niro but Diane Keaton instead? Or Goldie Hawn? Casting either of these two fabulous actresses and comediennes would have made for a funnier and more interesting movie. I know Meyers – whose films, from Private Benjamin and Baby Boom to Something’s Gotta Give and It’s Complicated, I generally like very much, apart from, of course, The Holiday – has said in interviews that she feels she’s “made that movie a couple of times already” recently, but I can’t help feeling any of this film’s complexities stumble on the sheer dullness of de Niro as this benign old geezer. Imagine Keaton passing on her all her experience to Hathaway, a far more nurturing and helpful movie than the Streep/Hathaway bitch fest of The Devil Wears Prada. It would have been delicious.
There are good things in here, observations about how the younger generation should respect the ‘seniors’ for their experience, manners and abilities, and thoughts about how the oldies shouldn’t dismiss the young for their USB ports and Instagram culture, and how they certainly shouldn’t ignore it.
But I’m staggered at how Meyers allowed this film to sag away to two hours, its unfunniness bordering on the inane at times as De Niro gets roped into babysitting, a trip to San Francisco, and an nascent affair with a masseuse, played by Renee Russo. The film’s Brooklyn setting only serves to remind that re-watching the entire DVD of Girls season 2 would somehow be so much better and more revealing.