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Robert De Niro drives “The Intern” to comedic success

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Equal parts social commentary, heartwarming narrative, and comedic adventure, The Intern packs a lot into 121 minutes. Under the skillful sincerity of Robert De Niro’s acting, however, those minutes pass quite quickly, with the perfect ratio of “aww”-inducing poignancy and chuckle-engendering humor. As 70-year-old Ben Whittaker, a widower who is not yet ready to resign himself to the monotonous leisure of retirement, De Niro deftly carries a film which might otherwise wander into cheesy territory through a series of scenes packed with this joyful mix of gravity and levity.

These 121 minutes begin with an ironically pastoral scene of a tree’s leafy, outstretched branches opening against a sunny sky with a tai-chi class taking place beneath. The scene, which provides viewers with an irresistibly endearing introduction to Ben, serves as a sort of promise to the audience. As Ben embarks on a dynamic reinvigoration of his old age, viewers have this opening scene lingering in the back of their minds, allowing them to rest easy throughout every turn of the plot in the fact that Ben Whittaker has pretty much mastered the wild messiness that is life.

Ben (and, really, De Niro’s portrayal of him) serves as an anchoring force for the film. De Niro’s acting gives Ben a quiet sagacity which perfectly contrasts the frenzied, whirlwind life of Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway). Jules is a young, highly successful businesswoman whose startup clothing company became wildly successful nearly overnight; her frenetic lifestyle collides with Ben’s seasoned mastery of all things work-related, home-related, and, for lack of a better term, life-related, in a series of events which keeps viewers entertained, soothed, amused, and warmed all at once. De Niro steals each scene with Ben’s charming old-man wisdom, and the comical interactions between generations provide humor which appeals to a wide range of ages.

While Ben’s undeniably adorable excitement about life is one of the movie’s highlights, De Niro is not the only one who shines in The Intern. Hathaway plays her role equally well, perfectly capturing the stress in which Jules’s daily life embroils her. She is utterly believable as a working woman struggling to balance her all-consuming role as head of her company with her role as a mother and a wife. Through Jules, The Intern dives into the dilemma of work-life balance while paying brief visits to the themes of sexism and gender roles. In this vein, the film features an interesting role reversal, with Jules as her family’s career-focused breadwinner and her husband Matt as a stay-at-home dad who raises their daughter full-time. These incredibly current and highly relevant topics are underscored by Ben’s presence as an onlooker from an outside generation. As Ben observes Jules navigate the complicated landscape of life as today’s modern woman, struggling to juggle her family and her career well enough to “have it all,” his age provides crackling humor as well as subtle insight. Bridging the spaces between these themes with this humor, The Intern manages to cover them all with impressive depth for a comedy, all without crossing the border into preachiness.

With similarly entertaining performances by an array of supporting actors (most notably a group of millennial interns with whom Ben ends up forming an unlikely friendship), The Intern is even more successful as a comedy than it is as a social statement. This unique mix of comedy and wisdom (sprinkled, as all good movies are, with romance) makes the movie truly enjoyable for a huge amount of viewers. Skeptical prospective viewers should best take a page out of Ben Whittaker’s book and jump headfirst into The Intern with a why-not attitude. Chances are that everybody will walk away with a smile.

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Robert De Niro drives “The Intern” to comedic success