It does not always work when an actor who has always been a tough guy plays a pussycat. But Robert De Niro, a two-time Oscar winner for The Godfather: Part II and Raging Bull, plays against type as a loveable marshmallow in The Intern, and makes the film a little sappy but enjoyable.
Some actors or actresses play a version of themselves or choose a very similar character in every role; George Clooney, Sandra Bullock, Matt Damon and an older Maggie Smith readily come to mind. Others are chameleons and avoid typecasting by taking roles that span a wealth of genres and eras (Meryl Streep). Many fight being typecast; in a send-up of her own career, Julie Andrews played an actress trying to break out of a G-rated image in S.O.B.
Nominated 7 times for an Oscar, DeNiro is considered to be a phenomenal actor, best known for his tough guy and loner roles. Besides the award-winning ones, there is Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter, The Untouchables, Goodfellas and many others. But, there are also his bad roles, like Meet the Fockers, The Big Wedding, We’re No Angels and New Year’s Eve. Is there a trend here? Many of his best films were with Martin Scorcese as director, and the lesser ones were comedies or, even worse, multi-character romcom trainwrecks. But even through it is a comedy at its heart, The Intern does work for DeNiro.
The Intern is a frothy Nancy Meyers film about a 70-year-old widower named Ben Whittaker, (De Niro) who becomes a “senior” intern at a Web start-up founded by Jules Ostin, Anne Hathaway’s obsessive-compulsive, sleep-deprived dynamo character. Ben becomes the wise, gentle father figure always equipped with a laundered handkerchief to the young men in the office and Jules. He even becomes a grandfather figure to Jules’ daughter.
Most of Meyers’ directed and written films have a female empowerment undercurrent wrapped in a modern-day fairy tale with great set design and wardrobes. The Holiday, Something’s Gotta Give, The Parent Trap and What Women Want. Her female leads are generally strong women, confident and successful career-wise, but conflicted in their personal lives. They also typically wind up as a couple with the male co-star, a trap The Intern mercifully avoids with its May-December leads in favor of showing that a genuine friendship is possible between a grown man and younger woman.
While the script probably focused on Jules, De Niro’s Ben owns the movie and is the reason to watch the film. As the New York Times put it in their review title: She’s the Boss, but He’s the Star. He is totally charming and believable as the retired widower who just wants to offer his experience and advice, without trying to play the “more experienced” card at anything but life. When he spends time with Jules’ daughter, any image of Travis Bickle and Vito Corleone go right out the window in favor of Mr. Rogers in a suit and tie. In The Intern, Robert DeNiro plays against his best type of role, but offers an enjoyable performance that tips the scales on the film to the favorable side.
Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss
Screening of The Intern
IMDB: Robert DeNiro
USA Today: 6 times De Niro was the gentlest guy ever in ‘The Intern’
Rolling Stone: Robert De Niro’s Best, Worst and Craziest Performances
New York Times: In ‘The Intern,’ She’s the Boss, but He’s the Star
Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures