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Review: 'The Intern' is outdated, but Hathaway and De Niro charm

First, the good news about Nancy Meyers' latest ladies night flick, The Intern:

Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro are just as warm and winning as their Oscars and the movie's trailers would have us believe. And Meyers thankfully avoids any May-December romantic sparks between their boss-employee roles.

That's about it. Now let's get on with what's wrong.

The Intern is a movie outmoded in style and strangely retro-sexist in spirit. The message seems to be that behind every successful woman is a wiser older man, guiding her decisions while privy to her most personal thoughts. Meyers' screenplay makes sure everyone's personal thoughts are third-draft cleverly expressed. In detail.

The set-up has potential. De Niro plays Ben Whittaker, a retired widower at 70, filling time with tai chi. Ben worked for 40 years making phone books, to underscore his out-of-touchness. One day he sees a flier for a seniors internship for an online fashion outlet. Ben's video application gets him hired, and a new chapter begins.

Maybe. Hathaway plays Jules Ostin, micro-managing founder of the company. A woman riding a bicycle through the office to save time, who sits in on customer service calls and gives full refunds to apologize. Someone working so many hours per day that a third of the movie passes before we meet her husband, Matt (Anders Holm), and standard-issue movie moppet Paige (JoJo Kushner).

Meyers again works in polished visual and verbal tones. Everything looks and sounds nothing like how real people live. The Intern is like the fashion shipment Jules orders for quality control, nicely packaged and bowed but with crumpled tissue paper inside.

The Intern is interesting while it centers on Ben's situation, wanting to be wanted, to contribute, while Jules refuses to be assisted by anyone. She thaws, too slowly for something so inevitable, given Meyers' formulaic structure. De Niro's patient reactions to being ignored, and gracious responses when he isn't, are affecting.

Once Jules and Ben's dynamic changes, the movie gets demoted from The Intern to The Boss. The thrust of the story isn't a senior life regaining meaning but if Jules will hire a CEO to share work responsibilities. Even Ben's amusing influence on younger co-workers gets tossed aside like an old briefcase.

Ben becomes Jules' driver, the better to overhear her time juggling and share his phone book company experience in her CEO search. He becomes part of her family, taking Paige to parties and seeing Matt doing something always happening in Nancy Meyers films. The resulting issues and insecurities steer The Intern into Lifetime territory, with Hathaway coaxing tears.

The Intern would be creatively better off sticking with Ben's story, his budding relationship with the office masseuse (Rene Russo) and rejuvenated spirit. But Meyers has been writing successful movies about women for women since Private Benjamin. She must know what she's doing.

Contact Steve Persall at spersall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

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