In The Intern, the businesswoman Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway) and, by extension, the writer and director Nancy Meyers, has a question: Where did all the “real men” go? Jules mourns not for the bossy, sexist fools of the Mad Men era, but for grown-ups, men who could rock a pocket square, who had a handkerchief at the ready, who had a good head on their shoulders and ambitions for existence. Into this vacuum walks Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro), her new senior intern, a magical old man blessed with the wisdom of his generation but none of the baggage, ready to bring balance to her life.
It’s easy to scoff, but The Intern is clearly a Nancy Meyers movie. Her previous films (Something’s Gotta Give, It’s Complicated) saw heroines bemoan the romantic appeal and destructive foolishness of alpha dogs played by Jack Nicholson and Alec Baldwin. The Intern tweaks this formula by making its central relationship platonic: Its main character, Ben, is free of foibles and is a helpful fountain of paternalistic advice. Thanks largely to performances by De Niro and Hathaway, The Intern is a gentle, enjoyable fantasy—and certainly Meyers’s best film in more than a decade.
As befits a modern generation-gap comedy, The Intern is set at a start-up: a successful shopping website Jules founded called About the Fit that’s colonized a converted factory in Red Hook, Brooklyn. (As she has many other locales, Meyers fetishizes the borough’s architecture, giving it an almost artificial sheen.) Ben is a retired widower with plenty of time on his hands and a seemingly bottomless reserve of can-do spirit who applies to a senior internship program. Once he’s assigned to Jules, his inexhaustible patience with her mild Type-A personality makes them an unbeatable team as she weathers the bumps of expanding her company and balancing work and her personal life.