Writer-director Nancy Meyers is a maniac. And not in the good, fun way. In a sort of middle-American, incredibly bland, yet abhorrently overbearing kind of way, like a tidal wave of mayonnaise washing over you. Her latest, The Intern, is fully in line with her general aesthetic (no one ever said auteur theory meant the movies would be good) of a plot centered around affluent white people, a running time at least 20 minutes too long and a title no one can seem to remember. I still remember working at the Carmike 12 years ago and moviegoers calling Something’s Gotta Give (2003) “The Jack Nicholson.” She’s aggressively dull, bringing vapidity to heights no other filmmaker’s quite scaled.
From the first scene, it’s obvious that The Intern is going to be something special. Sitting in front of a camcorder is Ben (Robert De Niro), a lonely, bored, widowed retiree, who’s applying for an internship focused on bringing in experienced senior citizens with too much time on their hands to work with an up-and-coming online clothing retailer. Here, he espouses some wisdom on hard work and gives his most sincere reasons for wanting to have a place to work at and fit in during his twilight years. It’s the kind of maudlin junk that’ll give you cavities and also features perhaps the worst acting in De Niro’s career. And this is a guy who’s spent the better part of two decades cashing paychecks. It’s magnificent how bad he can be in just a couple minutes of screen time.
After this, things settle down into a lukewarm miasma of vague, solvable problems. Ben gets his internship and quickly gets assigned to Jules (Anne Hathaway, who’s actually pretty good — which just makes De Niro look worse), the overworked founder behind the company. She’s immediately put off by Ben because, since she doesn’t get along with her mother, she can’t stand the elderly. Meyers’ strong suit obviously isn’t character motivation, but we do what we can. Slowly, Ben ingratiates himself not only into the lives of the 20-somethings he works with — giving sage advice and hearty friendship — but into Jules’ stressful personal life, too. He’s sort of a magic old man, here to teach all these kids a thing or two about life with all kinds of hoary nonsense.
The entire film feels like one big smirk, as Meyers gets to philosophize on the decline of the American male and their lack of suits (ignoring the fact that Ben dresses like a church usher) and padding the film with a lot of extraneous set pieces. There are chunks of the movie that could be shorn off (like a whole idiotic escapade where Ben and friends break into a house). Not because they’re pointless, but because they’re just not good. It’s all just so painfully corny and middlebrow and innocuously inoffensive that The Intern manages to circle the earth and become offensive — at least as concerns the idea of good taste, and it’s definitely not the kind of thing to be taken seriously. Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and brief strong language.