While many are distrustful of tech giants like Google and Facebook because of their part in the recent NSA surveillance scandal, it would probably pass you by completely were you to shell out cash for “The Internship,” the new buddy comedy reuniting “Wedding Crashers” stars Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn.
Perhaps most charitably described as a two-hour Google promo punctuated by poorly constructed jokes and Owen Wilson being lovable, “The Internship” is a “turns out old dogs can learn new tricks” comedy co-written by Vaughn and director Shawn Levy. Both are Hollywood veterans; Vaughn appeared in “Anchorman,” “Dodgeball” and “Wedding Crashers,” and Levy directed the Tina Fey-Steve Carell vehicle “Date Night” as well as the Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots-inspired “Real Steel.”
Baiting the audience with its goofy premise and a sneak peek inside the vaunted Google campus in Mountain View, it would not be a stretch to say that the key reasons the film was made were the obvious on-screen chemistry between Wilson and Vaughn from “Wedding Crashers” and Google’s blessing to shoot on-site free of charge. Puffed with cliches like a sexual coming-of-age scene in a strip club and the usual Owen Wilson forbidden romance (did I mention Wilson and Vaughn co-starred in “Wedding Crashers”?), “The Internship” is an extremely decent bad movie.
Nick (Wilson) and Billy (Vaughn) are watch salesmen at the top of their game — until the game, of course, collapses as a result of people using smartphones instead of watches, resulting in their company going out of business. Nick takes up work at the mattress store run by his sister’s creepy boyfriend (one of the movie’s few bright spots, played marvelously by Will Ferrell) and Billy gets in a shouting match with his longtime girlfriend about his unfulfilled potential and missed mortgage payments. Somehow, Billy scores an interview for himself and Nick at Google, where they stumble their way into the company’s summer internship program.
Once at Google, Billy and Nick team up with cosplay-obsessed (Google it) Neha, “repressed, self-punishing Asian” stereotype Yo-Yo, smartphone-glued smart-ass Stuart and obnoxiously dorky Google intern team leader Lyle — not to mention their primary antagonist, a one-dimensional British jerk named Graham. By the end of the movie, you will hate all of these people.
Put through a number of challenges — like developing an app and playing a game of Quidditch — the interns are judged on their performance in these events as well as their “Googliness.” We’ll get to “Googliness” in a minute, but here is where we depart from the realm of analyzing the one-dimensional plot and begin to assess the absurdity of the movie writ large, particularly as it relates to being an advertisement for Google, Inc.
The successful integration of art and corporatism has a rich history. Nike in particular is quite good at this. The Spike Lee-Air Jordan commercials with Michael Jordan and Lee’s infamous “Mars Blackmon” come to mind. I still wake up at odd hours of the night shouting Blackmon’s catchphrase, “It’s gotta be the shoes!”
Nike’s collaboration with indie pop group LCD Soundsystem yielded “45:33,” an outstanding EP consisting of one 45-minute long track marketed as the perfect jogging music. While LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy later conceded the marketing was 100 percent bullshit, this album and Lee’s collaboration with Nike are representative of an artistic drive that sought to exploit the partnering brand as supplementary to their artistic vision. Not vice versa.
In “The Internship,” we get, as Julian Assange described it, the full “banality” of Google’s mantra, “Don’t be evil.” Throughout the movie, the actors practically scream the company’s PR talking points. One earnest Google employee shouts that “diversity is in (Google’s) DNA!” At another moment, one of Google’s notorious driverless cars rolls by our stunned protagonists, forcing Billy to comment to Nick that “It’s only scary because it’s new.”
There is a reason, as the Los Angeles Times reported, that Google let the filmmakers use its campus free of charge (save for veto power over any material that Google found objectionable). The message “It’s only scary because it’s new,” is perhaps better suited to Google’s own interest than to an already overcliched comedy script. And no corporate trope is better suited to a movie this bad than the cliche’s cliche: “Googliness.”
“Googliness,” as we are to understand it, is the essence of Google — the secret sauce that makes these lovable computer science dorks the new masters of the future. According to Google’s own website, “Other companies screen for intelligence and experience in potential recruits. But Google also looks for ‘Googliness’ — a mashup of passion and drive that’s hard to define but easy to spot.”
Unsurprisingly, the movie is hard put to describe Googliness; while I have not rewatched the film for fear of inducing a severe migraine, I do not recall any description of the term that did not use shots of Owen Wilson’s face or stupid metaphors. Is Googliness in the DNA-bound diversity that we heard of earlier? Is it in the pluck, tenacity and crooked nose of Owen Wilson? Possibly. Likely? Nah.
What’s more likely is that Googliness, in addition to the dork-as-crusader myth that’s at the heart of Silicon Valley, is just that — a myth. Were it not that the cult of tech has already invaded Hollywood (consider 2010’s fantastic “The Social Network” and every Pixar movie ever) this myth’s insidious presence might appear out of place. But, as we are reminded, the reality is that the dorks have invaded Hollywood, and now they’re collaborating on terrible comedy films.
If “The Internship” is an omen of a trend in filmmaking, expect to be disappointed. Crappy movies that misuse Google, Facebook or any anchors of Silicon Valley culture are just crappy movies, no matter how much “Googliness” they possess.
Contact Noah Kulwin at [email protected].
A previous version of this article misspelled Steve Carell’s name.