The Intern (2015) – directed by Nancy Meyers

I compare this film to Italian cooking – you use fresh pasta, fresh tomatoes, fresh herbs and top it with aged parmesan – that is the essence of “The Intern.” A young energetic woman takes a new idea and develops it into a successful clothing business. Her meteoric rise is not without its emotional toll on her, her staff and her family. A co-founder and friend suggests – after he reads about it in an online article – taking on some senior interns; people who have years of business experience that might pass on some of their knowledge to the staff. Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway) rubber stamps the idea, puts it on the back burner and forgets about it when an elder man shows up one day and surprises her. The business partner assigns intern Ben Whittaker (Robert DeNiro) to work with the company’s CEO, Ostin. She finds him “too observant” and is ready to fire him when it slowly dawns on everyone how valuable – within a short span of time – Ben becomes to the organization.

The film opens with a narrative driven by a DeNiro voice-over. Recently widowed, Ben Whittaker uses his million-plus air miles he’s accumulated to travel and see the world. “I always end up coming home to an empty house…” he states at the beginning of the movie. On a Brooklyn street one day, he comes across a flyer about a company wanting to hire senior interns. Ben follows the directions, makes a video and sends it in. Of all the candidates, his is considered strongest by the hiring staff because of his sincere nature. Though ignorant of most modern social media (the one part of the film I thought to be the weakest plot point), Ben gradually fits in and affects the lives of those with whom he interacts.

With an audience of aging baby-boomers surrounding me, I found Ben Whittaker an easy hero in an age that no longer has respect for itself, let alone each other. In discarding so much of the past, the millennials have also thrown dignity and self-respect out with the baby’s bathwater. Our young society thinks nothing of belittling one another for one-upmanship. They’ve become cowards, hiding behind cells phones, and believe the only way to communicate is via social media. One of the most poignant things Ben points out early is direct communication. One of his fellow staffers wants to impress a woman in the office. “I’ve texted her, liked her, tweeted her… I even sent her the most awesome email full of emoticons! She just ignores them!” Ben asks, “Have you spoken to her?” At once, we see the apparent weaknesses in the overly medicated, heavily cell-phone subdued generation. Ben’s willingness to be that listener makes him more valuable than those too willing to blurt out numerous opinions for self-importance.

While Hathaway plods along as the neurotic over-worked CEO, Rene Russo walks onto the scene as the company therapist. As if someone opened a window, letting in floral scented spring air, this actress – with such great screen presence – infuses great comic relief into what could become a sophomoric lesson, bogged down with too much pontification. DeNiro’s character skates a fine line between avuncular and platonic. Yet as the film builds, he shines with panache and demonstrates how a great actor can demonstrate the most profound thoughts from just a change in his expression. DeNiro is my generation’s greatest actor – whether he’s doing comedy, empathy, or Sympatico. In several scenes, DeNiro is so good at self-expression, he manages to communicate everything we need to know from his changing face. Meyers direction here – or so it seems on the surface – is to let DeNiro be real with no dialogue and no music. The result is a brilliant performance. You can’t help falling in love with him.

Fun light fare for the baby-boomers out there who think that all we have left is a golf cart in Florida; “The Intern” demonstrates that Nancy Meyers can use her great skill, as both a writer and a director to convey the importance of growing old with style and grace. For being a Monday matinee, they packed the house. When the lights came up – I saw smiles on all of their faces. While Hathaway is a competent actor and the rest of the young cast did well; it was Rene Russo and Robert DeNiro who steal the show and indicate once and for all – we are the shining generation.