I almost missed The Intern. Not because of a ticket mishap or projector problem, but because it came this close to not getting the green light. Nancy Meyers, the film’s writer and director, says it was the hardest movie she’s ever made, and that the process of selling it was both “frustrating and disheartening.” People wanted a rom-com from the woman known for her rom-coms, not... whatever The Intern is.

She told Vulture:

I come along with a movie about a 70-year-old man working for a 30-year-old woman. You know, I can’t get Channing Tatum in this. And there are no really big women movie stars except for a couple of obvious ones that get movies made. The rest of them all fight for the same few parts. Anyway, it was hard.

Paramount eventually took the film, but it quickly changed hands to Warner Brothers, where its lead actors, Tina Fey and Michael Caine, were swapped out for Reese Witherspoon and Robert DeNiro. After Witherspoon left, Anne Hathaway took her place, and then, by god, they finished it.

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When it arrives in theaters this weekend, audiences will likely find themselves surprised by The Intern for the same reasons Meyers found it so difficult to make. This isn’t the breezy, aspirational rom-com we’ve come to expect from her over the past few decades, but instead a gentle little story about an unlikely friendship that contains hardly any “rom” at all. It’s a movie about trying something different, and was made by a woman doing precisely the same thing.

Meyers sets it all up in the film’s charming and efficient opening sequence. Ben (De Niro) is a bored and lonely 70-year-old widower and retiree who applies and—wouldn’t you know it—is hired for a senior internship program at a startup in Brooklyn. Jules (Hathaway) is the passionate and sleep deprived founder of that startup, which is an immensely successful online clothing store called Above the Fit. She’s also Ben’s new boss. Ben wears a suit and tie in an office where the other men are unshaven piles of wrinkles. He gives the unshaven piles of wrinkles advice about work and love. He’s old school, they’re new school, and that makes for plenty of first-act yuks—but while The Intern finds humor in Ben adjusting to his new workplace (Adam DeVine and Christina Scherer are particularly funny here), it finds its heart and emotional center in his relationship with Jules.

A silly movie would have made that relationship romantic and a bad one would have made it paternal, but Meyers knows better. Soon after Ben becomes Jules’s personal driver around its halfway point (I swear this makes sense), The Intern reveals itself as a movie about, quite simply, a friendship. Though there are two major subplots—one about the stay-at-home-dad frustrations of Jules’s husband, and another following her hunt for a CEO—they function primarily as ways for Jules and Ben’s platonic bond to strengthen.

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And as those characters, Hathaway and De Niro do some wonderful work. The two have a genuine, and dare I say surprising chemistry—specifically in scenes where they don’t discuss their jobs. These roles were as delicately performed as they were written, and little moments like a late-night Facebook lesson bring out the humanity of two people who could have easily been piles of cliches.

Jules is not an uptight, obsessive ice queen—but a stressed-out, dedicated working mother. Ben isn’t a bumbling, tech-illiterate father-figure, he’s a friendly, adaptable peer. And while the film is often a little too on-the-nose when reminding us that anyone—man or woman, old or young—can have it all, it presents that message with such admirable confidence that the audience in my screening erupted with applause on more than one occasion. You may roll your eyes during some of those moments, but at least you’ll be smiling too.

With a nearly perfect final exchange that doesn’t involve a repaired or blossoming romance (though Renee Russo, as the company masseuse, does manage to get her hands on De Niro), The Intern is a Nancy Meyers joint that’s much more Baby Boom than Something’s Gotta Give. It’s about people—Meyers included—who take the risk of believing in themselves, and are fortunate enough to find people who believe in them right back.


Contact the author at bobby@jezebel.com.

Image via Warner Brothers.