"History is always happening" at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
As a 40-year-old intern who was once told "You're the oldest intern I've ever seen," I was particularly excited to see Robert De Niro, currently age 72, in "The Intern," written and directed by Nancy Meyers of "It's Complicated" and "Something's Gotta Give" fame. I went in expecting a farce, in which senior citizen Ben (Robert De Niro) would foolishly fumble technology, and young company founder Jules (Anne Hathaway) would ridicule him, a relationship which, through the classic (and predictable) tale of young educating old and old appreciating young, would finally melt into a fondness for each other's weaknesses and a kind-hearted ribbing sort of friendship.
Right off the bat, I was sure I was correct. The movie opens with Ben finding a flyer looking for "Seniors" interested in interning at All About the Fit, an online fashion store that is going supernova. Ha! I thought. This out-of-touch retiree will mistakenly apply for a position looking for fourth-year college students. Hilarity will ensue.
But the movie had more than a few surprises in store. First of all, the flyer clearly states they were looking for people 65 years or older; the typical "Three's Company"-style misunderstandings were no longer a possibility. And while, in stereotypical fashion, Ben has to call his 9-year-old grandson to help him shoot his video cover letter, De Niro showcases his nuanced acting in the clip, declaring that he knows there's a hole in his life he needs to fill and insisting, ever so vulnerably, that he still has "music" in him.
When Ben first enters All About the Fit's refurbished factory space, "hipster" is the obvious name of the game: Jules rides around the office on a bicycle. The first girl who interviews Ben (wearing a sweatshirt and Converses to Ben's suit and tie) asks him, "What was your major? Do you remember?" And the last to interview Ben asks him, "Where do you see yourself in 10 years?" "When I'm 80?" Ben retorts. But thanks to the senior intern program's philosophy that people with decades of life experience just might have more to contribute than people who spent the last four years playing beer pong, Ben is hired.
Ben's old-fashioned ways and wisdom are an immediate hit with the young crowd. He props up an analog clock on his desk. His neighboring co-worker admires his 1973 briefcase. Ben asserts in the orientation that "Gray is the new green," and (surprise, surprise) he is assigned to perform his internship directly with Jules.
Ben's first task after days of being ignored? Get Jules' jacket cleaned. But, as luck would have it, Ben enters the conference room to retrieve Jules' jacket just in time to hear that, to her dismay, All About the Fit's investors are strongly recommending Jules hire an experienced CEO. Business is booming, and they're worried she might not be able to keep up with it on her own.
The business isn't the only thing Jules isn't keeping up with. She rarely sees her daughter, and her husband (who has chosen to stay at home so that Jules can pursue her dream) is having an affair. If it weren't for the intervention of Ben, she'd even have ended up being chauffeured around by a drunk. But the observant senior intercedes, and, despite Jules' best efforts to keep him at arm's length, a tender relationship between the two develops.
Yet again — at halfway through the movie this time — I thought I knew exactly how this movie would pan out. Ben would become the revered sage in the office and Jules would realize that her best option would be to hire him as her CEO. Instead, Ben gets to be a tad goofy, just like all the young folks in his office: He sports an erection when the company massage therapist gives him a shoulder rub (prompting the twentysomething next to him to loan him a newspaper for cover), and he stages a heist with his zany sidekicks to retrieve an irritated email Jules doesn't want her mother to see. But through it all, De Niro remains even-keeled and endearing. And when it comes time for Jules to hire a CEO, you might be just as surprised as I was.