Google is Your Friend: Shawn Levy’s The Internship, Or a Commercial of a Different Kind

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Nick Campbell (Owen Wilson, left) and Billy McMahon (Vince Vaughn, right) pursue their Mountain View dream.
Nick Campbell (Owen Wilson, left) and Billy McMahon (Vince Vaughn, right) pursue their Mountain View dream.

‘Frat Pack’ members Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson have been partners in crime on several comedy projects in the past, most notably as the genuinely funny womanizing Wedding Crashers. So on paper, their latest collaboration, The Internship, directed by Shawn Levy and co-penned by Jared Stern and no other than Vaughn himself, sounds like a great idea – especially when you factor in appearances by John Goodman, Max Minghella, Rose Byrne, and Will Ferrell. In theory, the star-laden $58 million film looks very promising, but what about in practice?

Unmarried longtime friends Billy McMahon (Vince Vaughn) and Nick Campbell (Owen Wilson) are two salesmen in their forties. They’re two charming, handsome men, yet they’re still struggling mightily on the financial side. Worst of all, when The Internship starts, they must learn from a long time business associate that their boss (John Goodman) has just decided to shut down the company – and then Billy’s girlfriend Megan (JoAnna Garcia Swisher) does the same to him on a personal level.

Undeterred, Billy manages to talk his friend into applying for an internship at Google. After a quirky online interview, the two are actually accepted. Yet on their first day on the company’s Silicon Valley campus, they must learn that getting in is easier said than done. Most of the other interns are much younger and don’t take to the two hip middle-aged men too easily. Some of them, such as Graham Hawthey (Max Minghella), are downright hostile, and the leader of Google’s program, Mr. Chetty (Aasif Mandvi), is a little hard on them as well – to say the least.

When the interns are split into groups, Billy and Nick are stuck with a bunch of nutcases: nerdy mentor Lyle (Josh Brener), the cynical Stuart (Dylan O’Brien), the oversexed but underfucked Neha (Tiya Sircar), and mama’s boy Yo-Yo Santos (Tobit Raphael). Getting all of them on the same page alone proves to be an uphill struggle. Then there are some further distractions that complicate their mission to get into Google, such as the attractive manager Dana (Rose Byrne), whom Nick quickly develops a crush on, and the just-as-hot dancing teacher Marielena (Jessica Szohr).

The Internship isn’t exactly the most innovative of all comedies, despite its ties to Google, but it’s not a bad one by any means. There are more gags that work than those that don’t, and most of the characters associated with Billy and Nick are likable in their own quirky way, or they become just that in the course of the film. Some, such as Sid (Eric André), are even nice from the start. Then again, you shouldn’t exactly expect too much sophisticated or intellectual humor from a ‘Frat Pack’ movie.

There are some raunchy but basically harmless moments in The Internship, of course, particularly the strip club sequence in the unrated version. That fact will certainly please a certain type of audiences. Yet Shawn Levy and his crew don’t overdo it. There’s less profanity than in let’s say the American Pie films. To a certain degree, you feel for Billy and Nicky. At heart, they’re fish out of water. The two are completely out of their comfort zone, and to see how they handle the situation is a crowd-pleaser if you go in with the right set of expectations – which brings us to the downsides of The Internship

Together with Apple, Amazon, and Facebook, Google is one of the most controversial ‘modern’ companies. While many of its products prove to be useful in our daily lives, we’ve also grown highly accustomed, even dependant on them – maybe too much for our own good. That’s not to condemn Google as the antichrist. The services they provide definitely help us, but it’s not as if they did it out of selflessness or for philanthropic reasons. The question is, as always, ‘Cui bono?’ – Who benefits?

Google actually gains at least as much from the information exchange as we do, namely precious insights and our personal data. There are business interests behind it, and they aren’t among the world’s most profitable companies and one of the most valuable brands for no reason. Google is a pretty competitive environment, especially when it comes to hiring people. Even getting the chance is really tough. So it’s not all rosy-daisy or a literal ‘Garden of Eden,’ as The Internship and its feel-good story would like us to believe.

Of course, the movie doesn’t totally omit the ‘dog eat dog’ atmosphere among the candidates. The character who embodies this is the arrogant, selfish, and stuck-up Graham Hawthey, who clearly believes himself to be above anyone else in the internship program. He doesn’t shy away from using every trick in the book to get what he seems to want more than anyone else – a proper employment at Google. In essence, Graham is a personification of everything that appears to be wrong with the corporate world today.

The heroes of The Internship, Billy and Nick, are the complete opposite. They’re extremely likable, even though they lack all the necessary skills to even make it into the company’s Mountain View headquarters. Both are lovable losers, in a way. At the same time, they’re no snooty-nosed little upstarts. Despite all their professional shortcomings, Billy and Nick have street smarts. They’ve survived in the world of sales for about two decades when The Internship begins – another universe that easily qualifies as a shark tank.

Incidentally, the Mountain View setting proves to be interesting on several levels. It’s not just a high-tech playground for the geniuses at Google. The name of the location speaks for itself. Billy and Nick must rise (to the challenge), while everyone else seems to be looking down at them, at least initially. In a way, Mountain View also reflects the way the company tends to see itself – ahead of the rest. All the others are a level below, so to speak, which is why nobody appears to be willing to play with Billy, Nick, and the rest of their group of oddballs.

All in all, The Internship is a fun movie with great acting performances and particularly benefits from the onscreen chemistry between its stars Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson. Still, you can’t help but feel a little ripped off or screwed over, since the film is essentially a full-length commercial for Google. If you find the product placement in other blockbusters annoying, The Internship takes it to a completely different level. If you can look beyond the blatant advertising, it’s actually an enjoyable watch – although it can certainly be discussed whether they should actually charge audiences for sitting through a comedy commercial.