(NOTE: I worked at Google for a number of years. Let us just say that I may be slightly biased…but I can also shed some light on accuracies and inaccuracies depicted in The Internship about life at Google.)
In a performance review, The Internship would meet expectations. It is a silly film with a few laugh-out-loud moments and many more moments that miss the mark. We have seen this story before — a group of underdogs learn to work together and discover real value in themselves that helps them fight against the odds. It crosses every stereotype and dots every cliché. The Internship borrows elements from fish out of water stories, bromance plots, and sappy inspirational tales. Such a concoction of non-surprises fit into a one-note joke of a movie would be forgivable if it were actually hilarious. Unfortunately, it is not. However, if you are a fan of Vince Vaughn’s motor mouth, you will have a good time. If you work in the tech industry, you will find the film highly amusing. But most importantly, if you don’t expect much, you will be decently rewarded.
It is clear that those involved in making The Internship, including Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn, the latter having both a screenwriting and story credit, performed some extensive Google research, and not just by typing stuff into the search box. Many Googlers, including myself, were at Google the day the two actors were being shown around the Mountain View campus. The actors must have been keeping a keen eye on their surroundings because there is an acute attention to detail: stickers on the laptops, Google badges, various modes of campus transportation, and loads of Google terminology (a ‘Google vs. The Internship’ fact check is included below). The Internship does a respectable job at capturing the dizzying yet wondrous experience of being at Google for the first time. It is indeed a lot to take in. If only it were obvious the filmmakers spent equal time crafting unconventional characters and humor.
Before the film arrives at the Google campus, we are introduced to two schmooze-master salesmen, Billy (Vince Vaughn) and Nick (Owen Wilson). They are informed by a client at a dinner sales pitch that their wristwatch business is closed. Middle-aged, out of work, and out of touch with modern technology, Billy convinces Nick to apply with him to a summer internship program at Google in the hopes of turning their lives around…by landing internship jobs…that could maybe lead to full time jobs…not ideal, but, at Google! You may be able to sense what I’m getting at here. The movie plays out a bit like a Hollywood commercial for the tech giant. The story could have easily been back-dropped by any tech company, since Google — like Apple, Microsoft, or Facebook — is at the forefront of the technological revolution. That said, Google does provide a uniquely fun, coveted, and widely recognized work atmosphere. It has also, for many years, symbolized the force behind the widening gap between the young minds that understand how new technology works and the aging dinosaurs (now including middle-aged folks) that can’t keep up.
Thrown head first into Google’s overwhelmingly fast-paced culture, Nick and Billy find themselves quickly falling behind as they compete against groups of young intellectual college students (including members of their own team), but especially their main rival group led by bullying upstart, Graham (Max Minghella). Minghella makes for a very amusing antagonist, as he did in The Social Network as well, the movie about Google’s social media rival, Facebook. Nick and Billy’s group consists of an ethnically diverse group of stereotypes, and they are each quite charming in their own right. They’re fun to cheer for and have good chemistry alongside Nick and Billy, who both serve as older and “wiser” mentors. The combination of Vaughn and Wilson’s success as a duo, coupled with the bubbled in world of Google, had to be perceived as a recipe for comedic gold. Perhaps it is the PG-13 script, or the family-oriented experience of director Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum, Cheaper by the Dozen, Real Steel), or a reliance on the usual shtick rather than the development of sharper, inventive humor, but The Internship feels like it lacked effort. The lack of effort is ironic because the film features so many mini inspirational speeches about putting all of one’s effort into being true to oneself and achieving one’s goals. Luckily, some surprise cameos and a splendid performance by Aasif Mandvi as the director of the Google internship program partly make up for the lead actors’ dullness.
At its core, The Internship presents a strong commentary on the generational gap. Again, if only it were funnier. If The Internship were able to induce more laughter, then the somewhat ominous underlying message beneath the ridiculous plot would carry all the more weight — That we live in a world that is moving too fast to fully keep up with. Older generations have a more difficult time adjusting. The struggles of Billy and Nick only touch the surface, and they are in their forties. Can you imagine if The Internship starred the late Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau? The age discrepancy would have been more drastic (and maybe funnier), but the point would remain eerily similar. Billy and Nick’s ability to soak up all the information Google demands of them in such a short time frame is entertaining, even slightly inspiring, but mostly improbable. The Internship is chalk-full of lessons (and cute references to the 80’s and 90’s), none hitting home more than ‘try to stay ahead of the curve.’ Even as I finish writing this review, someone somewhere has probably written an algorithm that will change the way we search plane flights, or created a mobile app that performs the superfluously inconceivable. The best we can do, like Billy and Nick, is to keep our heads in the game and simultaneously enjoy the ride.
The Internship quick Google fact check (*MINOR SPOILER ALERT*):
- Does Google have a Quidditch field? — No. However, Google does have its own sports field on which they could probably construct one (and may have).
- Does Google actually use words like “Nooglers” and “Googley” and “Googliness” — Yes. They are integral parts of the Google culture.
- Are “Nooglers” really given colorful propeller hats? — Yes. I still have mine.
- Is all food at Google free? — Yes. At one point there was a candy bar vending machine that worked on a monetary sliding scale (the worse for you the more it cost.)
- Do Google bikes look like that? — Yes. And, that circular bike that rides through one of the campus shots with a group of Googlers on it facing each other– that is called a “conference bike”.
- Are there really nap pods at Google? — Yes. There is a slide as well.
- Does Google really pit groups of interns against each other? — Of course not!…yet.
- Are Google interview questions really that bizarre? — Yes. I can’t say I’ve heard of the one used in the film, but they can get very abnormal/outside-the-box.
- Is it really against Google policy to date coworkers or have a beer with your boss? — No comment.
- Was that Sergey? — Yes. Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, makes two cameo appearances in the film. One was accidental, supposedly.
The Internship opens in Bay Area theaters on Friday, June 7th.