InternThe films of writer-director Nancy Meyers are light, airy, breezy affairs. They’re like Crate & Barrel catalogs adapted for the big screen, mainly populated with beautifully aging Baby Boomers and their attractive, younger counterparts, both open to life’s lessons as they maneuver through the tropes of a brightly lit dramedy. While 2003’s Something’s Gotta Give taught us a few things about late-in-life romance set against a beachy backdrop, 2009’s It’s Complicated commented on marital discourse, accentuated by the cozy WASPiness of Santa Barbara.

Mostly set in the oh-so-trendy Brooklyn, The Intern stars Anne Hathaway as Jules, the owner of a fashion website (think Gilt) with its headquarters in a converted factory. Robert De Niro is Ben, the titular character, a bored retiree and widower who signs up for a special “senior internship” at the company. (We get an earload of voiceover from him in the opening so that we know what’s up right away – it’s as cute and tidy as it is derivative.) Though assigned to Jules as a trainee, Ben quickly proves himself a patient sounding board, confidant, and father-surrogate for the stressed-out exec and her employees, a ragtag group that resembles some of the stock characters found on any given CW show.

Meyers treads carefully when it comes to commenting on the generation gap between Baby Boomers and Millennials. Yes, we see Ben struggle to turn on a Macbook and sign up for Facebook, but in the hands of another writer-director, these little moments may have been treated at the expense of the character. Here, Robert De Niro makes sure Ben holds on to his dignity as both the young and the old experienced have a mutual respect for one another in this setting. And Meyers and Hathaway do everything they can to make Jules a newly evolved version of the harried Working Mom who can’t balance everything at once, including her potentially rocky marriage to a stay-at-home-dad (a scrumptiously scruffy Anders Holm). She’s a 21st-century J.C. Wiatt (Diane Keaton’s character from 1987’s Baby Boom, also written by Meyers) who just needs to believe in herself. Some moviegoers will either feel inspired or yawn at the notion.

However, so much meticulous art direction, cutesy banter, and classically framed shots will only get a movie so far. What this movie lacks is any real conflict. The Intern, while being pushed in the press as a different kind of rom-com (the two leads never hook up), may be Meyers’s softest movie to date. Everyone’s playing it safe here. The stakes never feel high — one ridiculous, out-of-place sequence involves Jules enlisting Ben to break into her mother’s house to delete an accidental email. And while Ben gains more access and insight into Jules’s personal life, the line between employee and friend becomes blurred in a way that’s warm-and-fuzzy and bland at the same time. Ben quietly observes his new surroundings, and in no way does he blatantly push his own agenda or stern opinions when Jules is pressured to hire a CEO to handle the rapidly growing business. He’s simply a compassionate crutch in a suit. But would it have hurt to make him a little less…toothless?

A subtext or theme of Ms. Meyers’s movies is how she casts a man’s man — Mel Gibson (What Women Want), Jack Nicholson (Something’s Gotta Give), Alec Baldwin (It’s Complicated) — as a character who learns to listen to women. Therefore, in the end, the modest proposal behind The Intern, amidst the eye candy set design, is that for both men and women, the sexiest thing in the world is to be heard.

@TheFirstEcho