Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
Director Nancy Meyers (It's Complicated) may not push the envelope but she makes warm and pleasant films that make easeful reflections upon our world, along with light commentary.
She is well in form again with "The Intern" as Ben, a retired septuagenarian (Robert De Niro), starts a new job with an online clothing company, to stay active and refreshed.
Though the story is quite rote and routine, the film is briskly amusing. The honest charm that De Niro gives to this stock character actually repels cynicism, despite all.
Ben is stuck in a comfortable rut. He lives in a spacious Brooklyn apartment, however unrealistic this may seem. His wife passed away years ago and though he misses her, Ben has transcended this loss. Yet he is restless and unable to cope with the abundance of hours ahead of him.
The life of a couch potato is not for Ben. During a walk, he sees a bulletin, asking for company interns aged 65 and over. He makes a video interview and gets the job.
On the first day, Ben is suprised to see rows and rows of laptops with no one addressing the other person face to face. Ben seems at sea, but soon his personal warmth disarms these millenials and he begins a rapport with many.
Jules (Anne Hathaway) the chattering self centered company founder, sees empathy as a waste of time.
The crux of the plot concerns Ben in his attempt to connect with Jules and more importantly his later goals, regarding work and life. Much fun is made of Ben being an older man surrounded by a young crowd.
A cinematic parallel can be made between De Niro's Ben and John Belushi's role of Earl Keese in "Neighbors." The physical resemblance is striking, yet a main difference is that De Niro is no dark comic figure here. His Ben is pleasant, almost ego-less and eager to help. He is stable, usually calm and seemingly above chaos---a universal Everyman.
De Niro the actor appears for a moment in one chuckle-inducing scene when he looks at his face in the mirror, getting ready for work. His famously psychotic line of "You talkin ta me?" has transformed into a gentle "Hi," from a gray flannel suit. One might not wish it were true, but Travis Bickle is now Teddy Bear.
The actor has enough sly and easy lines to keep the momentum going. There is one scene that is thrown in for the Judd Apatow set when Ben is given a chair massage by a sensual Renee Russo, but though this feels easy and derivative, De Niro plays it so honestly that it comes off as very funny.
Hathaway also gives a shot of realism to these opiate sequence, though her smiles and tears are given well inside the bounds. Still, there is much formula in this mix. One moment has Ben trying to steal a laptop for Jules so things don't sour with her mother. De Niro scowls and mugs in his inimitable way. In another, he befriends Jules' all too adorable kid (JoJo Kushner ) and takes her to a birthday party.
In a third cinematic deja vu, Ben witnesses Jules' insipid hubby (Anders Holm) cheating on her. Here we go again.
The spare and minimalist performance by De Niro, combined with his rapid repartee, however, is the saving grace of this film. He disarms rationale making this man into a tangible person rather than a Disney-era delusion.
Fans of Nancy Meyers oeuvre will be well tickled by "The Intern," yet another Metropolitan comedy that won't shock or surprise but thankfully doesn't stagnate in boredom either.
After all, who doesn't love those Tribeca-tossing shoulders or that squinty smile? De Niro turns ordinary empathy into an art.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org