It may be hard for many to remember a time before Google. The ubiquitous search-engine is, for better or worse, the first stop on the World Wide Web for a large proportion of internet users when they are looking for information on … well, anything to be honest. In reality however Google has only been with us for fifteen years and if, like Vince Vaughan and Owen Wilson’s characters in the new Twentieth Century Fox film The Internship (2013), life progressed quite happily for you before the intervention of the internet, then this satirical and timely comedy is tailor-made for you.
Billy (Vaughan) and Nick (Wilson) are two middle-aged designer watch salesmen who suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, find themselves out of work. In an increasingly tough work market where you’re only as good as the next batch of university leavers, the two friends will literally do anything to find a job. So it is that they apply for the internship programme with internet mega-company Google, in the hope of landing a prized job at the end of the summer. However they soon realise that the odds are against them when faced with a group of twenty-somethings who will stop at nothing to work for the company where everyday is, quite literally, a rainbow.
If you can see past the numerous subplots which litter this film, the end results of which are so blatantly signposted that it’s frankly insulting to infer that anyone with even the remotest degree of intelligence could not see the outcome, then you will undoubtedly enjoy it. However if you’re hoping for some insight into issues such as the unfair practice of large global corporations utilising the skills of young people for free under the guise of ‘valuable work experience’, you may well be disappointed. This lack of depth shouldn’t really be surprising considering the two actors in the central roles. In recent years Vaughan and Wilson have honed the loveable buffoon persona to a tee, building lucrative cinematic careers in the process, leaving audiences in no doubt as to what to expect from any film which features them.
It is also this characteristic silliness which – fortunately for the most time stopping short of descending into boorish laddishness – is the film’s saving grace. Under different circumstances Vaughn and Wilson’s frequent horseplay and lack of reverence may well have proven irksome and immature. Here however their characters are the more appealing as they reflect the boring and staid qualities of their younger counterparts, who are old before their time and lacking the common sense to go out there and enjoy life before it passes them by. Impressively and competently portrayed, these supporting players are the typical gallery of computer nerds and socially inept high achievers which society as a whole increasingly tells young people they should be if they are to get anywhere in today’s cutthroat job market.
Occasionally the script does revert to the schoolboy humour you’d expect from Vaughan in particular – which is hardly surprising when he is credited as the film’s main writer along with Jared Stern. Moments such as Lyle (played with geeky nerdishness by Josh Brener), the bespectacled leader of Billy and Nick’s project group, raising his arm in the air and encouraging Billy to give him a fist bump by shouting at him to ‘fist me’ may well be cringe-inducing. Fortunately however such minor indiscretions are done so firmly tongue-in-cheek that their crassness is soon forgotten.
In a time when Google is mired in scandal about a number of issues including breaches of privacy and tax avoidance, anything that raises the company’s public image and makes it appear at least semi-human can only be a good thing. What amounts to a two-hour product placement for them is not to be sneezed at either. Whether The Internship – which like the Google corporation it depicts is sharp and slick but with little real substance beneath the surface – will have the desired effect, or whether it will go down as simply another piece of innocuous fun, as memorable as the next batch of university graduates hoping to impress during their summer work-placements, remains to be seen.
Cleaver Patterson is a film critic and writer based in London.