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Non-Review Review: The Internship

When did Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn get so old? The two rose to fame as part of the “frat pack” in the late nineties and the early part of the last decade, with The Internship serving as a reunion eight years after their collaborative effort in The Wedding Crashers. It’s interesting to look at how radically their screen personas have shifted. The Wedding Crashers positioned the two men as teenagers afraid to grow up, while The Internship joins them as two middle-aged men with life experience to share.

There’s a sense that something’s missing here, that we skipped a crucial step in the transition from rogue youngsters to hip uncles. The Internship doesn’t feel reckless or energetic. It feels safe and comfortable. If The Wedding Crashers saw the pair joyriding in a stolen Ferrari, The Internship feels more like a cruise in the family sedan.

A brand new day...

A brand new day…

To be honest, Google hurts The Internship. It’s not that you should expect the film to deal with the company’s relationship with China or the NSA, or some of its ambiguous user practices and privacy policies. That’s hardly appropriate fare for a supposedly light-hearted comedy. The problem is that a big multi-national corporation like Google is no fun. I don’t mean that in a bad way. obviously they’re very good at what they do, but being very good at what they do means that they aren’t going to allow anything that might tarnish their image. Even the stupid stuff that comedies like this need to sustain themselves.

The Internship features the same collection of jerks, sociopaths and perverts that we’ve come to expect from comedies like this. However, rather conspicuously, none of them work at Google. There’s a cameo from another Wedding Crashers alumni as a sleazy mattress salesman and Ron Rifkin does wonders with a small cameo as a sleazy scooter salesman, but the closest we get to a disreputable character working at Google is the snooty British (or not) intern who serves as the film’s antagonist. And since he isn’t getting paid, it’s hard to consider him a true employee.

"I'm telling you Owen, all the kids are on this thing..."

“I’m telling you Owen, all the kids are on this thing…”

Once our leads arrive on the Google campus (unironically described as a “garden of Eden” and featuring establishing shots of volleyball!), there’s no hint of character to be found. The air is just sucked right out of the film, with the script struggling to define the archetypes necessary for a story like this to work. There’s a weird headphones guy played by Josh Gad, but he turns out to be a cool dude. Aasif Mandvi is cast in the role of hard-ass boss, but he doesn’t have the teeth necessary to make him a suitable foil. While we get the usual selection of nerdy jokes, there’s no suggestion that anybody who works at Google isn’t a thoroughly decent person.

Which is nice, in theory, but in practice it stops the film dead. Comedies like this thrive on larger-than-life personalities and absurdities and conflicts. The most conflict we get involves one of our leads attempting to exploit Google’s food policy and a worker “ssh-ing” the other for talking in an area intended to help employees rest. Outside of that, the Google campus is portrayed as paradise on Earth, where people ride slides and coloured bikes and play quidditch.

On yer bike...

On yer bike…

It doesn’t help that Wilson and Vaughn struggle to fill the roles allocated to them by the script. It seems like the script wants to focus on the fact that they’re middle-aged out-of-touch relics, offering “life lessons” to a bunch of cynical whippersnappers. At one point, Vaughn’s Billy is called upon to offer sage dating tips to a nerdy youngster. “Sometimes the most radical move, is to just be yourself,” he assures his colleague, without a hint of irony. Later Wilson’s Nick tries to convince another to appreciate a sunrise instead of checking out his iPhone. “You can’t get that on your four-inch screen. You gotta look up.”

All of this is offered with a completely serious face, as if our two leads have tasked themselves with passing out fortune cookie morals to a generation that really needs some insight from their elders. Christophe Beck’s intrusive score ensures that audience always knows exactly what it is supposed to be feeling as these two wise old men impart their knowledge on a bunch of kids who have so much learn about the way that the world works.

They've made their bed...

They’ve made their bed…

The problem is that Wilson and Vaughn haven’t quite matured to the level where they can pull this off. Their screen personas don’t seem older or wiser for the years they’ve spent. Indeed, the climax of The Internship ultimately falls back on the characters’ immaturity and inability to commit, traits more often associated with overgrown manchildren than wise middle-aged men. These sequences fail to convince, and just make it seem like an ill-judged attempt to recapture past glories, while the scenes treating the pair as wise older men feel like children trying to wear grown-up clothes.

That said, the biggest problem with The Internship is simply that it’s not consistently funny enough to offset these significant weaknesses. There’s no sense – despite the bright colours and the access granted the production team – that Google is willing to laugh at itself in the way that The Internship needs. Instead, it feels just as out of place here as Wilson and Vaughn. Appropriately enough, the film’s closing image captures the brand as the movie’s third (and possibly top-billed) performer, and it isn’t willing to commit to the performance.

2 Responses

  1. It’s sort of sad to see how far from grace these guys have fallen, but they just don’t have “it” anymore. Some bits and pieces of their act is funny, but altogether, it feels as if they’re trying too hard to really get it to work and be young again. Good review Darren.

    • Yep, and that attempt to seem young and reckless (look! Vince Vaughn is a quitting quitter who quits!) plays really strangely with the whole “let’s lay some life advice on you whippersnappers” stuff.

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