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De Niro and Hathaway fight predictability with charm in 'The Intern'
Zack Pearlman as Davis, Jason Orley as Lewis and Adam Devine as Jason in Warner Bros. Pictures' comedy "The Intern." - photo by Josh Terry
The Intern is a two-hour footrace between emotion-yanking charm and utter predictability. There is never any doubt as to what this film is going to serve you. The only question is how much you enjoy the recipe.

Robert De Niro plays Ben Whittaker, a retired widower who joins a senior internship program at a hip Brooklyn e-commerce company to fill the void in his golden years. He is assigned to Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway), the owner, founder and workaholic leader of said company.

The setup is obvious: Ben and his charming, old-school ways will eventually soften Jules hard corporate exterior and make her a better person. Complaining about how obvious this is feels beside the point.

The Intern is the latest from writer/director Nancy Meyers, who has delivered films such as What Women Want and The Holiday. Like those films, The Intern explores the male-female dynamic and the evolving role of women in the workplace.

Meyers applies various criticisms of these themes, some subtle, some ham-fisted, all layered with a generous degree of charm. At different points in the film, The Intern comments on the tension between stay-at-home mothers and working mothers, and a Hathaway monologue derides the 21st century man-child who has forsaken shaving and handkerchiefs.

The film works better in individual moments than it does as a whole. Its early stretches are cute and predictable. Jules offices are a bustling pressure-cooker of go-getters and panicked deadlines, all fixated on how many customers are clicking past their fastidiously crafted home page. At home, Jules husband Matt (Anders Holm) is a neo-Mr. Mom, patiently tending to their too-wise-for-her-age daughter Paige (JoJo Kushner).

Ben is injected into this world and sets about his unwitting work, bonding with the other interns, helping Jules beleaguered assistant Becky (Christina Scherer), and even taking Paige to a birthday party. He also hits it off with the in-house masseuse (Rene Russo), so he does get something out of the deal.

The second half of the film gets better, not because the modest twists and turns create suspense, but because Meyers finally gets past the surface level of her characters and digs into the meat of her story.

De Niro is fun to watch, even if his protagonist has no arc. As a character, he is a walking metaphor of the ambiguity of retirement. His obsolescence as a human being is reflected by the 40 years of work he put in at a phone book company.

As an actor, it is surreal to see De Niro staring into a mirror, aping his iconic You talking to me? face-off from almost 40 years ago in Taxi Driver. It is far more than time that separates Ben from Travis Bickle.

Hathaways character has more of an arc, but its difficult to understand quite what Meyers is saying with Jules. Shes relatively new to the workaholic world her company is only 18 months old and Meyers has Jules battling the stereotypes of working women while reinforcing them at the same time. Her schedule is planned in five-minute increments until it just isnt anymore, at which point she finds plenty of time to break down in meaningful interactions with her new fairy godfather.

Ultimately, The Intern is much more interested in making points than telling a good story. We can learn from the elderly. There is more to life than working hard at your job. Women have it hard. Men have it hard. Women and men have to struggle to make things work these days. The messages arent new, but there are just enough moments of genuine humor and emotional resonance to get The Intern safely to its final credits.

The Intern is rated PG-13 for profanity (including use of the F-word) and some sexual content.