I think if you asked Robert De Niro if he thought he’d be spending the twilight of his career playing kindly father types to the likes of Anne Hathaway he’d probably flash you one of his patented looks of disbelief and say, “What are you crazy?!”
Not that it isn’t a testament to De niro’s versatility, staying power, and work ethic that he’s still around and still a bankable star. Still, whenever I see him in a light comedy/rom-com, I feel like I’m dining in The Palm or Ruth Chris Steakhouse and order the chicken Parm. Sure, the chicken parm is nice but its not really their specialty.
De Niro’s true talent is when he is allowed to “embrace his darkside”. In films like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and The Godfather movies, De Niro is able to be full of rage and reckless. Its exciting to see him explode. He had both a commanding physical and the acting chops to play all the varying frequencies of anger and frustration. Now, though, De Niro more often is forced to show a reserve and restraint on film more worthy of a cuddlier actor.
In the just released to cable film, “The Intern” De Niro is a retired/widowed businessman who decides to put his foot back in the waters of industry. So, he quickly enough gets a job as an intern at a online fashion site. Soon, through dint of his calm demeanor and hyper helpfulness he soon becomes the errand boy/driver to his workaholic boss, played by a buttoned up, Anne Hathaway. Gradually in a series of scenes that play out like a slightly less southern/stately version of Driving Miss Daisy, De Niro’s character wins Hathaway’s confidence through his pleasant people skills and his 40 year business background. De Niro’s character always shows the proper restraint and says the exact right thing in a “Dear Abbey” way that soon made me nauseated. De Niro proves a very boring actor when he shows tact and restraint. The Deniro of the 70’s and 80s would have hijacked his boss on a wild vehicular tour of the mean streets of the city and if she didn’t end up, at the end of the evening strung out on dope or find herself the newest member of some underground prostitution ring, DE Niro would have counted the day a gigantic failure. He would have sourly disdained Hathaway’s work ethic and needled her to take more walks on the wild side. Instead, Hathaway is trapped in the car with a toned down, muzzled, seemingly drugged version of De Niro more reminiscent of Michael Landon’s character in Little House On the Prairie.
Contrastingly, Anne Hathaway’s character in the film is closer to form and her hyper, put-together (if a touch frazzled) character in films like “The Devil Wears prada” or “The Princess Diaries”. She rarely plays characters that are true fuck-ups and in “The Intern” she’s no different. She’s a top flight executive but without any of the nastiness or bite that make for more interesting boss characters on screen.
Hathway’s scenes with De Niro are pleasant and they do gradually form a deeper bond than just co-workers to best friends. To me, the progression of their relationship had all the earmarks of a romcom just (because of the big age difference) without the romance or obligatory awkward sex scenes. Maybe because we are so trained as movie-goers to expect a big sex payoff or at least a passionate kiss payoff with a man and a woman bonding so well on screen, part of me wanted their relationship consummated. It wouldn’t have taken much for these buttoned up, insanely respectful PC People to suddenly lose it and, throwing caution to the wind, take their relationship to the next level. The screenwriters also seemingly stack the deck to make you want De Niro and Hathaway to “get busy”. De Niro’s character is a widower and he quickly develops a deep respect for Hathaway and even frequently babysits her precocious daughter. The writers even construct a scene where De Niro And Hathaway are conveniently in a hotel room together (in their bathrobes because of a surprise fire-drill) and Hathaway tearfully reveals that her husband is having an affair. In any other romcom or even general garden variety movie, the robed, sensitive couple would have realized their chemistry and spent a passionate night and ordered room service the next day. Alas, in this story, the characters are way too proper and respectful of each other to let anything untoward happen and the scene ended with the two just closer as friends, yuck! Platonic love…is there anything more truly satisfying? Yep, plenty!
The film moves along in a nice, uneventful way. Certain minor ripples in Hathaway’s business and private life are gently smoothed away. and De Niro even finally finds his own peace emotionally and in his private life. In the begining of the film we had two nice un-edgy people who were a tad dissappointed in their lives and in the end we have two equally un-edgy people who are a bit happier/ well-adjusted. Not exactly the stuff of great drama but pleasant enough to warrant a C Grade.