‘The Intern’: Director, stars bring right skill set to office comedy

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You know that person you meet who’s so nice and smart and accommodating, who’s almost predictably wonderful it’s kind of annoying at first — but then you stop resisting and realize it’s not an act, and you come to kinda love being around that individual?

“The Intern” is the movie version of that person.

This is why you don’t judge a movie by a high-concept poster that seems like a setup for a “Funny or Die” skit. You can almost hear the voice-over: Oscar winner Anne Hathaway is the boss, and Oscar winner Robert De Niro is HER INTERN! Wait, what? This fall, you’ll be majoring in FUN with “The Intern”!

Ah, but with the reliable and consistent veteran writer-director Nancy Meyers (“Baby Boom,” “Father of the Bride,” “What Women Want,” “Something’s Gotta Give”) at the helm, and De Niro and Hathaway meshing in terrific fashion and delivering utterly charming performances, “The Intern” invites us to settle in from the start and practically throws a fleece blanket over our legs and asks us if we’d like some popcorn. It’s a lovely comfort movie, nestled softly in a cynicism-free zone.

Let’s be frank, the great De Niro sometimes phones it in some of these latter-years comedy roles he takes, but he’s focused and likable and clearly having a good time playing Ben Whittaker, a 70-year-old widower and retired exec who was once the top sales and marketing guy with a company that produced phone books. (This is the first of many, many, many reminders: Ben is old and comes from a different time. He sold phone books! He wears a suit! He has a briefcase! He’ll need to be educated in the ways of Facebook!)

Still sound of body and quick of mind, Ben faces a daily battle to fill his days. He reads, he goes to the movies, he takes up tai chi and Mandarin, he hangs out at the local Starbucks, he visits his son and grandchildren on the West Coast — but he’s still feeling as if he’s benched from the game of life, until he sees a Plot Device, I mean, an ad for “senior interns” at a booming e-commerce startup company in Brooklyn, where he’s lived his entire life. (As Ben says in his interview, he’s beginning to worry he’s not hip enough to live there any more.)

Anne Hathaway is Jules, who founded the company just 18 months ago and is now presiding over a wildly successful operation with more than 200 employees, nearly all of them young and cool and positioned at gleaming computers 24/7, ready to jump at a moment’s notice when the boss zips by on her hipster bicycle, and yes, I mean she actually rides her bike through the refurbished warehouse where they all work. (One glaring omission from the workplace, and in fact from the entire movie: Where are the people of color?)

Jules doesn’t want some old-guy intern getting in her way, but for reasons not entirely convincingly explained by the script, she has no choice in the matter. But Ben is so great, it’s only a matter of weeks before he’s driving Jules around the city, getting to know her stay-at-home husband (Anders Holm) and their ridiculously adorable daughter (JoJo Kushner) and becoming a member of her inner circle.

Ben also becomes a mentor to the other interns, literally and figuratively cleans up the office — and catches the eye of the on-site masseuse (Rene Russo, looking spectacular at 61) who doles out back rubs and foot rubs to the employees, because that’s how cool this company is. What I don’t get is why any company would ever let this guy retire, ever. Ben for president!

With some genuinely insightful dialogue, a number of truly funny bits of physical business, and small scenes allowing us to get know and like a half-dozen supporting players, “The Intern” grows us on from scene to scene, from moment to moment.

Meyers is also an expert at knowing when to tap the waterworks. We’re just cruising along with Ben and Jules, enjoying the repartee as they go from strangers to friendly colleagues to great friends — and then some bad stuff happens, because even in a sunny movie like this a little rain must fall, and here we are with De Niro and Hathaway, watching them in an extended scene that is funny and touching and heartbreaking and just about perfect.

[s3r star=3.5/4]

Warner Bros. Pictures presents a film written and directed by Nancy Meyers. Running time: 121 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for some suggestive content and brief strong language). Opens Friday at local theaters.

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