The Internship: A breezy unemployment comedy destined for HBO reruns

Jun 6, 2013

It’s easy to see how The Internship could have turned into a bitter, unsettling slice-of-life drama about two forty-something men who lose their jobs, tumble down the socio-economic ladder and find themselves desperately trying to reinvent and rejuvenate themselves in order to compete against legions of tech-savvy recent college graduates in the kill-or-be-killed job market jungle.

However, while that synopsis accurately describes the plot of The Internship, it does not reflect the tone of the film, which tries to find the lighter side of unemployment, diminished self-esteem and shattered American dreams. Most people wouldn’t see those subjects as fertile ground for a free-wheeling comedy, but Vince Vaughn and Jared Stern beg to differ.

Their screenplay for The Internship tries to strike a tricky balance between topicality and wackiness, as it cushions its insights about the modern working world with plenty of goofy shenanigans and a healthy helping of the fraternity-brother-style camaraderie of Vaughn and his Wedding Crashers co-star Owen Wilson. They bring out the best qualities in each other, and this movie is entirely dependent on their energy.

The Internship is the cautionary tale of two high-end watch salesmen who are running out of time. Billy McMahon, played by Vaughn, and Nick Campbell, played by Wilson, have to find out from one of their clients that the company they’ve been working for has abruptly shut down and that their former boss, played by John Goodman, has floated off into Retirement Land on a golden parachute.

Meanwhile, Billy and Nick go into an uncontrollable tailspin as they realize they no longer have those elusive skills that pay the bills. When you can’t make it, you have to fake it and that’s what Nick and Billy do when they apply for coveted internships with Google. They pretend to be college students – enrolled at the University of Phoenix, which they unconvincingly insist is “the Harvard of Internet colleges” –even though they’re approximately twice as old as the other prospective interns and only about as half as bright.

Billy doesn’t even know the basic lingo; he keeps talking about putting photos “on the line” and can’t even begin to get his mind around the concept of Instagram. There’s considerable generational friction between the guys who grew up in the 1980s and the aspiring Googlers who were born in the 1990s, as Billy and Nick reminisce about Flashdance and their fellow interns talk about flash drives. The one trump card that Billy and Nick hold is experience: Although their new co-workers are Web-savvy and book-smart, they’ve spent their lives observing the world through their phones and monitors instead of actually participating in it.

Because this is an Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn movie, of course, embracing life begins with embracing the hard-hustling hotties at an upscale strip club. In terms of genuine laughs, The Internship can’t come close to matching Wedding Crashers, even though Wilson and Vaughn are both in solid shape and they’ve got sturdy support from Rose Byrne as a congenial but cautious Google vet, Josh Brener as a fumbling team leader who might be mistaken for Woody Allen’s straining-to-be-hip grandson and MTV Teen Wolf star Dylan O’Brien as a prematurely jaded brainiac who does his best to see the gray cloud inside every silver lining. There is also a first-class cameo by a major star disguised as a low-life mattress salesman with a sprawling Sanskrit tattoo across his neck.

If the movie never seems to take off, it’s because every time The Internship seems to be building up comic momentum, everything comes to a halt so that we can find out more about what a glorious wonderland of a workplace Google is, what with its free food, spiral slides, self-driving cars and Harry Potter-inspired Quidditch matches. The worship of all things Google goes far beyond mere product placement; the company practically deserves co-star billing.

Breezy, cheesy and mildly funny, The Internship was perfectly summed up by the gentleman sitting next to me. “That’s a movie that will play forever on HBO,” he observed. Somebody give that guy a job as a film futures forecaster.