The Internship

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I’m going to stick my neck out here and suggest that The Internship is not supposed to be taken very seriously. No bad thing, at least not in in itself: disposable diversions should have a place in the entertainment ecosphere. But this undemanding comedy, droll and glib and every so often rather casually offensive, does leave an unexpectedly bitter aftertaste that I’d guess was not meant to be part of the package. But more about that later.

Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn in The Internship
Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn in The Internship

The premise of The Internship is imaginative, I’ll give it that. 40-somethings Nick and Billy are journeymen salesmen. They flog…I forget what it is they sell. Watches? Filofaxes? It matters not. The point is that their wares are as redundant as they are, as they realise when when halfway through a sales pitch they’re told that Head Office has gone out of business. Salarymen with superfluous skills are a depressingly real demographic in the modern age.

Billy, a perpetual optimist, has a moment of inspired thinking. (And yes, the line between inspiration and insanity can be very thin indeed.) Why not shoot for an internship at Google? It is where all the action is nowadays. Nick is somewhat more circumspect. There’s the trifling matter of their complete lack of suitability, for one thing. No transferable skills. Internships are intended for college students. And so on and so forth. This is no country for old men, unfortunately. But Billy’s sunny disposition wins through. What do they have to lose, anyway?

Self-respect and dignity, for starters. Vince Vaughn (Billy) and Owen Wilson (Nick) have a long and distinguished history of playing the goat, most notably together in 2005’s Wedding Crashers. They do click again here, their fish-out-of-water unsuitability for the internship apparent from the start as is their obliviousness and studied cheeriness. Competition for the internship was tough enough. (Their interview, where they make a mockery of Google’s legendary oblique problem-solving tests, is the best bit of the film). But only 5% of interns will get a job offer at the end of the summer. Chaff will be sifted from wheat through competition. And even though Nick and Billy think they are hungry for a second chance, they’re surrounded by eminently better qualified interns, 20 years younger, clamouring for a first chance. Let the fun and games begin.

At one remove, The Internship is middling fun, a mix of the original and the hackneyed. Nick and Billy may be figures of fun to the callow youth around them, but they do have the advantage of age and guile over youth and bad haircuts. There are the designated obstacles intended to keep them on their toes: Mr Chetty (Aasif Mandvi, of The Today Show), a cringe-worthy stereotype of the Indian-American tech whizz made good. Fellow intern Graham (Max Minghella) fills the obligatory role of evil-with-an-English-accent. Rose Byrne, a superb actress, is wasted in a trivial eye-candy/love interest role. But the film is what it is. I can’t really complain about it doing exactly what it sets out to do, which is to create uncomplicated and borderline unsubtle comedy. (PG-13 ratings and the box office riches that follow are what, I assume, keeps it relatively smut-free.)

Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn - The Internship
Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn – The Internship

What does trouble me about The Internship is the not-terribly-subtle cheerleading that it does for  a set of social values that at times border on the sociopathic. Not many people remember that “meritocracy” was once supposed to be a dirty word: the blinkered world-view that comes with the self-selection of the intellectual elite and all that comes with this. Google is supposed to be all about doing good and working to make the world a better place for us all. (They’re not at all shy about getting this message across in The Internship, a rather unique form of product placement it seems to me.) But the reverse side of this coin is the insistence on thrusting a very particular set of values upon everyone else. That Nick and Billy have no obvious place in this brave new world, that young bucks are encouraged to reach for the prize – Google or nothing – at all costs, the palpable disdain towards anyone that embraces an alternative philosophy to Google’s alternative philosophy: it’s all rather disconcerting. A few years ago, Lloyd Blankfein of Goldmans Sachs copped enormous flak when he suggested that bankers were doing God’s work. If, as I assume, Google sanctioned the production of The Internship, then I suspect it won’t be terribly long before they get themselves in the same mess. Humility always plays better than hubris, after all.

The Internship (USA, 2013, 119 min, English and Geek-Speak with Hebrew subtitles)
Directed by Shawn Levy; written by Vince Vaughn and Jared Stern; Starring: Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Rose Byrne, Aasif Mandvi, Max Minghella.

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