The Internship might not feature a whole lot of comedy that could be offensive to the naked eye, and overall it’s so harmless to audiences at large that they probably won’t register the myriad of problems with it. Like most comedy, everything in this Vince Vaughn/Owen Wilson Wedding Crashers-lite-styled re-up will be totally subjective and drawn across very specific lines.
Are you over the age of 45, blue collar, have no clue how a computer works, you’ve never had an internship in your life, you’ve never heard of Google as a corporation, think The Big Bang Theory is the height of television comedy, and you find the leads hilarious? You’ll probably adore the latest offering from director Shawn Levy (Cheaper by the Dozen, Real Steel). If you disagree with most of those criteria, The Internship will be positively poisonous to anything and everything you hold dear in life. That’s just the way it is. It’s the ultimate “This movie wasn’t made for you” type of film, and yet, people who will end up loving it will annoy the hell out of you for liking it. Comedy is tough, fickle, and resoundingly unfair in those respects.
Billy (Vaughn, who also co-wrote) and Nick (Owen Wilson) are old school salesmen that have just lost their livelihoods when their job selling watches vanishes into thin air. (Because everyone just uses their gosh darned cell phones to tell time now!) The pair head to San Francisco after bullshitting their way into an unpaid internship competition working for Google in a last ditch effort to stay afloat. They’re seen as outcasts for being about 30 years older than their teammates and rivals, but what the duo lack in knowledge and brainpower they somehow inexplicably make up for in “life experience.”
The film earns near failing grades in terms of creating a narrative in near record time. Neither man has an actual character. Billy’s getting evicted from his house, talks really fast, and is kind of boorish. Nick is affable, laid back, and a hopeless romantic. It sounds familiar because no one involved with this production probably thought for a second to give them any real depth whatsoever. The leads are coasting on the archetypes they have made their careers on. We don’t even really see Billy try that hard to find any other solutions to his work situation, and Nick ends up with a crappy job at a mattress shop run by a big named actor in a cameo doing exactly the kind of cameo you would expect them to do. In the case of Wilson, there’s still some charm left in his sad sack routine, but Vaughn’s douche-with-a-heart-of-gold-shtick is beyond played out by this point.
One would think that a film this flimsy on character would at least be brief, but at 117 minutes, it’s anything but. Once Billy and Nick get to the candy coated appearing wonderland that is the Google campus (where all the food in the cafeteria is free, cars drive themselves, and you can hop on a multi-coloured bike or sleep in pods on your break), they quickly realize (quite rightfully) that no one wants them there. After they are forced to break off into teams, they end up firmly in the “reject” camp alongside an Asian kid with a domineering mother, a sexual explicit talking Indian girl, a white kid in a toque who never looks up from his phone for anything, and the guidance of junior executive trying to overcompensate for his nerdiness. Again, none of these are actual characters. Just a list of attributes with one specific goal for each of them. Except toque kid. He doesn’t even have that much depth aside from his hatred for being around Billy and Nick.
Billy and Nick rumble through Google like bulls in a china shop before buckling down and trying to make a real go of things, all while teaching their young charges a thing or two about stopping and living life around you. There’s probably a great film that could be made just slightly removed from this material, and there’s absolutely something said about how life experience and education need to go hand in hand. The problem with The Internship is that it never once proves that Billy and Nick have a lick of good advice and that it inherently portrays actual internships and higher education as inherently evil things that are destroying America.
There’s an undercurrent of inherent scorn about how what the people are doing in actual internships is for chumps. As someone who had to go through an internship to get where he is, it’s hard to say that on a very personal and guttural level that I wanted to slap the living hell out of everyone I saw on screen. Also, if this is how Google actually determines who gets jobs for them, no one in their right mind would ever go work at “the best place in America to work.” This “internship” is nothing even remotely what an actual, functional internship would ever be like. For instance, not only would everything be an enormous game and not at all practical knowledge, but they also wouldn’t stop to inexplicably play a game of Quiddich. That’s not a joke. Well, it is in the film’s eyes, but a huge part of the film is wasted on a set piece where everyone runs around on a field with brooms between their legs. And this is part of the job and team building. Because Google is wacky and all tech types are wacky, you get it?
The fact that we’re supposed to feel sorry about how lost Billy and Nick find themselves is laughable in itself since they’re never likeable enough from the start for any of us to care. They’re the victims of bullying, but aside from just being stupid they never look down upon anyone around them. I guess that makes things somewhat forgivable, and to be fair it does help make the film’s final third go down a bit easier than the set-up would suggest it would. It might also be because by that point I realized nothing was heading anywhere I hadn’t already seen before. Even a half assed romantic subplot between Nick and a considerably younger, yet sheltered and almost anti-social executive (Rose Byrne) adds nothing.
There are precisely four tiers to the film’s comedy:
1. People who know a lot about technology are pretty weird, right?
2. If we repeat everything for five straight minutes it will automatically become funny.
3. Everyone loves 80s references, especially Flashdance. They also love X-Men gags.
4. Set up some cameos from familiar faces and hope no one knows these people are being wasted for simple punchlines for desperate laughs.
Only the third and fourth ones really manage any real laughs (since this is essentially just a Revenge of the Nerds update in the first place), and again they all come primarily closer to the end of the film. The only other positives come in the form of a great performance from Max Minghella as the Brit-accented baddie intern and having possible the most admirably least sleazy “lets all go to the strip club” sequence possible.
That’s not a lot to go on, and let’s set aside how technically inaccurate the whole thing. It’s bizarre that Google would even sign on for this project since it really isn’t the best showcase for their already omnipresent product. They’re essentially stating, “Yeah, we’ll hire people with no real education or experience if they have spunk and great advice!” If that’s the case, they should just do away with any and all potential internships right away and just run their company into the ground. Then again, the core demo for this film won’t care about any of this in the slightest. Internships are already inherently suspect and often cruel things to partake in the first place. They’re essentially free labour disguised as long term interviews. Why do we need something like this that makes them look any worse than they already are?