The Internship tries to capture the zeitgeist in a pretty specific way: it sets most of the movie on the campuses of Google. The ubiquitous Internet company serves as the center of the film’s plot, which has a couple of staunchly brick-and-mortar salesmen trying to survive in the digital dog-eat-dog world of this new era of doing business. It also keeps telling the audience just how great Google is. While the film smartly finds a classic genre to root the film in, it can’t help but be dragged down by the worst impulses of corporate thinking.
The movie begins with salesmen Billy and Nick (Vince Vaugh and Owen Wilson) being told that the company they work for is being shut down. While Nick prepares to settle for working retail, Billy is struck by a moment of inspiration. He applies for an internship at Google, and despite not having any relevant skills for the tech industry, he and Nick are accepted. They travel to the Google campuses, and are put in a pool of ingenious young tech professionals all vying for a few openings to work at Google. Billy and Nick, with their staunchly old school ways, are completely out of their depth. But working with a group of misfits, these old school salesmen are out to prove that they aren’t quite done yet.
Despite the film’s high tech setting, its roots are firmly planted in a far more old-fashioned film genre. It’s basically a slobs-versus-snobs campus comedy, where a couple of newcomers whip a team of outcasts into shape, using unconventional means to put one over the more capable group filled with the campus’ elite. There’s even a stuffy dean character, transplanted here as the no-nonsense head of the intern program played by Aasif Mandvi. It seems likely that the entire film was conceived after the writers learned that Google called its workplace a “campus,” and everything followed from there.
And when the film does stick to these tropes, it’s affable, if a little predictable. The writers clearly have an affinity for the genre, and the story of these misfits pulling together makes for pleasant if not exactly inspiring viewing. The problem is that it’s all rooted in the myth of Google. It is usually bad enough that audiences are made to sit through Hollywood’s increasingly clumsy attempts at product integration in our movies. But this entire movie is basically an advertisement for the company, making it out to be some kind of utopian collective that somehow manages to be a humongous, successful company while still looking out for the interests of small businesses.
Being told that Google is so great gets tiresome pretty quickly. Google is ubiquitous enough that we don’t need a whole movie to sing its praises. The cast sleepily skates through the film, investing little in the scenes. Vince Vaughn seems to have been born for the campus comedy, his natural friendly frat boy persona an easy fit in the milieu. But we’ve seen more from the actor. Owen Wilson is so naturally likable that he doesn’t really have to do much to convey a sympathetic character. And so he doesn’t really do much at all. Their supporting players try a lot harder, and it’s their efforts that give the film its energy.
The Intership is really just a really long ad. And to make matters worse, it’s not a very good ad. It oversells the product, basing its entire climax on what appears to be a carefully constructed corporate message. It’s not exactly the kind of drama audiences tend to look for in a movie. Google may be pretty iconoclastic and innovative as a company, but those virtues don’t really carry over to the movie. The presence of the company intrudes on a fairly competent iteration of classic campus comedy, getting in the way of all the fun we could be having.