Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Cinema File #212: “The Internship” Review


What happens when you google the word “Google”? Well, apparently it just sends you a link to the very same website you're already on, which is both completely obvious, and kinda weird, considering we're talking about, well, Google. This is the site that changes its logo every day to celebrate holidays and the birthdays of famous authors and has a function to automatically calculate the degrees to which an actor is related to Kevin Bacon. One would think that a company this well known for its benign hipster defiance of convention might put up a message declaring that you've just caused the universe to implode or something. In his new film The Internship, Vince Vaughn googles Google, and regrettably, the resulting adventure is equally as disappointing.



The Internship follows Vaughn and long time friend Owen Wilson as two luxury analog watch salesmen in the world of smart phones who seek out a new career as Google Interns despite having no real knowledge of computers or the Internet and no rapport with the younger generation that does. I originally tried to fit the phrase “comically anachronistic” into that last sentence to describe these two characters, but then I realized that given their age, its not that they're too old to understand the things they don't understand in the movie, just stubbornly ignorant of modernity. My dad's over 50 and has a Facebook page and even a regular podcast while Vaughn's character says “On the line” instead of “online,” because there's totally still a person living in the world who does that. Also, the term comical typically refers to situations in which comedy is a crucial component, and for the life of me I can't figure out where any of this is supposed to be funny.


Well, that's not entirely true. If you find the same shtick these two guys have been peddling for years to still be even the least bit amusing, than maybe you might get something out of this last gasp at relevance, but I would suspect that there are less people in this camp than there are people who can relate to their characters' weird modern Luddite lifestyle. If I was willing to give the film this much credit, I might suggest that the main conceit of the thing is some sort of meta-deconstruction of the two actor's current career doldrums, two Old School Wedding Crashers trying to make a comeback and relate to young kids again (like Drillbit Taylor did?...yeah, sorry, too far), but I strongly suspect that might be coincidental. And even if it wasn't, it isn't enough to justify this exercise in lame, tired cliches and what I would guess is a lot of improvised chatty interplay between two guys who really need to come up with something new, instead of just indulging in a fantasy where they play two guys who find something new.


A lot has been made of the crass commercialism of setting an entire movie inside Google's corporate campus, with many calling The Internship less of a movie and more of a two hour ad for the company. The idea of a corporation sponsoring a movie to bludgeon the audience with its logo and present the idea that they are nothing less than the best company in the world probably should bother me more than it does, but in an age where Google has become so ubiquitous and essential that they no longer need to sell us on their products, I was able to easily let the sales pitch fade into the background while watching. It certainly wasn't as offensive as the hideous Sears and Ihop product placement in Man Of Steel, which only stood out to remind us that a movie about Superman had so little to do with Superman, and was much more concerned with delicious pancakes and whatever the hell they sell at Sears.


If anything, the Googliness of The Internship, to use a phrase from the film that is as trite and annoying in context as you would expect, actually showcases something interesting about the way product placement has changed in the last few years. Despite this particular film's low box office, the sort of product integration that makes so many people so queasy still looks to be the wave of the future, though perhaps in more subtle and insidious ways. The issue I have is not so much that they do it, but how accepting we have become of the practice. The entire reason I know the term “product integration” is through the series 30 Rock, which used it to shill for GE by joking about how cheesy it was that they were shilling for GE. Even Community (back when it was good), a show obsessed with its hipness and meta-self awareness, had an entire story arc centered around Subway, infusing “Eat Fresh” with so much irony, as if that made it any less manipulative.


This only makes it more strange and deflating when we find the presence of Google in the film to be so completely arbitrary, barely ever used to comic effect. This might as well have been set at any non-descript tech-company, and while I understand that the people sponsoring the movie would be hesitant to have it contain jokes at their expense, I have to think there was a way to mine more humor out of this setting without offending our corporate overlords. Perhaps in depicting the inner world of Google careerists as a lifestyle, they could have followed Trey Parker and Matt Stone's example with the Mormons, exploring a culture that may seem weird and funny to outsiders, but ultimately meaningful and beneficial to those on the inside. Or they could have gone absurdly far into the other direction, taking the directive of not insulting Google and conflating it with the company's reputation for encouraging a fulfilling working environment. Have every Google employee have a personal chef and masseuse, or have access to some other advantage that no company would ever offer. Put a Water Park in the middle of the campus. I don't know. Do something.


As I watched the same underdog story that I've seen a thousand times play out with all its most predictable beats (initial loss/division, team comes together, second act set back, come from behind victory), I found myself wanting a movie daring enough to follow the bad guys you always see in these movies. When do we get the movie about the creepy black-clad Hockey team from D2: The Mighty Ducks, working hard and honing their craft, doing everything they can to be the best at what they do regardless of the cost and yes even their essential humanity while these other goof offs screw around and learn how to work together through trial and error and inspirational speeches? Maybe they could realize their place in the narrative, that no matter how good they are, they will never win, because they're not the underdogs, and the whole movie could be about their existential crisis, or better yet, their increasingly silly attempts to be less disciplined to alter the expectations of movie logic and become even bigger underdogs.


I never realized before watching The Internship that there is a fine line between an underdog story, and a story of people who just simply don't deserve to win, but do because of dumb movie rules. These two guys should not get this job. They had their chance at a career and this is clearly something meant for younger people, and half way through the movie, they get another job offer more suited to their skills, but decline because by that point they like Google too much. Of course, this is presented as a good thing, when realistically I think two old dudes getting out of the way of the next generation might have been more noble. Yeah, maybe the bad team that keeps winning the early contests before the good team learns to work out their differences are a bunch of arrogant jerks, but this isn't a contest for most heart or most inspirational come back. And what about the thousands of other applicants who worked hard to get there and who would clearly get more out of these positions, but just fade into the background so the screw-ups can get one in the win column?


Maybe that's the true meta-commentary of this movie, that these two actors still have a career when they clearly don't deserve it, and the dumb rules of Hollywood keep rewarding them for failure after failure. The Internship isn't the worst or the best of these, but then the middle of garbage is still surrounded by garbage. There's no passion here, no reason given for why the people making this movie wanted to make it, let alone for why anyone would want to watch it. At least The Big Wedding gave its cast and crew a nice vacation in Connecticut  Even as an ad for Google it doesn't work, because the movie is so lackluster that it only makes the company took bad for wanting to be associated with it. If you get the inclination to google where this might be playing near you, or when the DVD will be coming out, just start googling bacon numbers. You'll have much more fun, and the urge to hurt yourself with this terrible movie will soon pass.


Oh, and one other thing. A significant plot point of this movie centers around the intern contestants learning to be operators at the Google Helpline, which gets it own logo and everything as if its an actual thing. You know what, it fucking isn't. There is no Google Helpline. There's online support but good luck getting anything done if their FAQs don't help you. Their email response time sucks and when they do respond they're completely useless, and when you call the main Google phone number and follow the automated instructions to get to the helpline, a computer voice tells you to go fuck yourself and read the FAQs some more. You'd think a movie that has Google so far up its ass would know this simple fact, or maybe the writers just took it for granted that any company, let alone one as big as Google with so many users and such a reputation for being cool and hip would actually have something as basic as a fucking helpline. Fuck them. 
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