Charlie Chaplain once said, “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in a long shot.” That dictum is well-applied by Vince Vaughn and Jared Stern in their screenplay for The Internship. The comedy comes in the wide shots, but when it gets in close, there’s a serious sub-text: the stuggle many people face these days to find a job.
Vaughn teams up once again with Owen Wilson, as they did in Wedding Crashers, and there’s definite chemistry between them. But where Wedding Crashers was rated R (with good reason), The Internship stays in the slightly more genteel PG-13 neighborhood. Part of the reason is the director, Shawn Levy, who has carved out a niche for himself doing comedies like both Night at the Museum movies as well as Date Night. Levy is excellent at highlighting character comedy, based on the people rather than just a gag. There are a couple of moments that dance close to crudeness, in particular a cameo by Will Ferrell, but Levy pulls us back from the edge each time. He’s interested in the people of the movie, not just in getting laughs.
Vaughn and Wilson play Billy McMahon and Nick Campbell, two salesmen for a high-end watch company. They’re out with one of their good customers, a buyer for a department store chain, when they’re told by the customer that their business has folded. Their boss (John Goodman in an uncredited role) didn’t have the heart to tell them. They pretty much hit rock bottom. Then Billy, in a moment of inspiration while searching for jobs on the internet, applies for Google internships for both himself and Nick.
They manage to make it through the interview process, but when they get out to the Google Headquarters south of San Francisco they realize how far out of their depth they are. They also butt up against the no-nonsense head of the internship program, Mr. Chetty (Aasif Mandvi). It also doesn’t take Nick long to find a love interest, albeit a pretty much unrequited one, in Dana (Rose Byrne).
The Google interns are divided into teams to compete in several different aspects of work as well as in games, such as a grounded version of Quidditch. They end up in the leftover group with Stuart (Dylan O’Brien) a brilliant but painfully introverted geek, Neha (Tiya Sircar) a young woman who says she’s into cosplay, and Yo-yo Santos (Tobit Raphael) a home-schooled prodigy in desperate need of assertiveness training. The team’s mentor from Google, Lyle (Josh Brener) is a woefully awkward young man with a crush on a dance instructor who taught at Google once.
At first the others view Billy and Nick as flat fifth-wheels who will hold them back, but the two older men have skills that the younger people haven’t developed. Yes, it’s a predictable underdog story – Vaughn winks at the conventional plot by having Billy try to inspire the others on his team by quoting Flashdance as if it were a true story – but while it may have a standard plot, the mix of characters makes it warm and winning.
Kudos to Tom Meyer (Production Design) Christa Munro (Art Direction) and Jan Pascale (Set Decoration) for creating a Hollywood version of the Google campus that makes you want to work there. No actual filming was done at the real Google headquarters, but their participation was key to the making of the film. (Vaughn has said that if they hadn’t got Google to sign on to the production, the film wouldn’t have been made.)
Vaughn and Wilson are wonderful to watch, especially as their characters gain confidence. Rose Byrne takes what could have been a vanilla role as the “love interest” and makes Dana idiosyncratic and fun. She also gets to use her native Australian accent for once in a movie. Aasif Mandvi demonstrates deeper emotions and heart in his role as Mr. Chetty than he’s had a chance to show on “The Daily Show.”
The Internship may not be a runaway hit like Wedding Crashers or Bridesmaids, but it definitely has its charm, and you can do worse than being charmed for two hours.