Leads bring likability to ‘The Intern’

There’s a place in the world for movies that are little more than “nice.”

By that, I mean the kind of low-impact fare you might run across while browsing Netflix on a Saturday afternoon. You put it on as background noise for household chores, pay just enough attention to get the gist of it and probably forget about it the next day.

“The Intern” is one of those movies, and I mean that in the nicest way possible. There’s nothing especially challenging or tense to be found here, but solid performances from its two leads and a generally decent script make it tough to dislike.

Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway) started one of those Internet businesses you hear so much about from her kitchen table, and turned it into a lucrative Brooklyn startup within 18 months. One of her advisers sets up an internship opportunity for senior citizens because, well, it’s convenient for the plot of this movie.

Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro), a 70-year-old retiree with nothing else to do, takes up the offer and proves to be wildly overqualified, having spent several decades in management himself. He becomes Ostin’s ferociously loyal and diligent personal assistant and, eventually, best friend.

That premise had the potential to be tremendously corny, but writer/director Nancy Meyers mostly avoids that. The dialogue is snappy without falling into Joss Whedon-esque snark, and warm without being overly sentimental.  

It helps that Meyers had two extremely talented actors as her leads. Hathaway successfully pulls off Ostin’s whip-smart, overworked-but-in-control persona while bringing genuine emotion when the role calls for it from time to time.

De Niro, meanwhile, is hardly ever asked to go beyond his character’s “wise grandpa” archetype, but that’s fine because he does that pretty darn well. His performance is so natural that the character’s uncanny infallibility is believable.

One area where “The Intern” doesn’t consistently deliver is its comedy. Much is made about how old-fashioned Whittaker is compared to his slovenly tech dude counterparts, and it tends to grate after a while.

It’s not exactly groundbreaking humor to show an old person struggling to figure out Facebook.

Other scenes are effective, though, such as a mini-heist about halfway through the movie involving a risqué email Ostin accidentally sent to her mother. That scene has a frantic tone unlike the rest of the movie, making it surprisingly funny.

What I liked most about “The Intern,” however, is its core message. It’s great that the male and female co-stars develop a 100 percent platonic friendship, despite the script constantly setting up a potential (and profoundly creepy, given the age difference) romance.

It’s a relationship built off mutual respect. Ostin isn’t so proud that she can’t accept Whittaker’s advice, and his wisdom is never used to undermine her competence.

Aside from those somewhat refreshing aspects, “The Intern” is mostly just a pleasant, moderately funny comedy. If it interests you at all, I’m pleased to report it’s basically impossible to hate, even if it’s not amazing.