There’s a scene in Olivier Assayas’ recent movie “Something in the Air,” about the youth culture movements in France in the years following the sociopolitically tumultuous Summer of 1968, in which a group of filmmakers premiere their latest activist work on Laos. Its conventional essayist presentation prompts an audience member to challenge, “Shouldn’t revolutionary cinema employ revolutionary syntax?” Assayas intends for this line to be a joke—a parody of the absurd extent to which young radicals would intellectualize their work—but there is a certain truth to it. In cinema, style and content must exist in harmony, servicing the same goals, in order for a work to be truly effective.
What does all this have to do with a farcical buddy-comedy starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson?—you’re probably wondering. (Yes, you’re reading the right review.) Well, this farcical buddy-comedy happens to be set at the headquarters of Google, perhaps the hippest and most revolutionary tech giant in existence. Recognize the contradiction? Presumably, in sending Vaughn and Wilson to intern at Google rather than another workplace which would have just as strongly clashed with their old-man personalities (a liberal arts college? a migrant farm?), the filmmakers originally sought to derive humor from the corporation’s fashion-forward approach. But by framing this scenario in such a traditionally sitcommy way, Google becomes a shallow pond for the leads’ fish-out-of-water.
Of course, the kind of innovative comedy that would have suited this subject—and make no mistake, Google is the film’s subject, as much as either overpaid headliner—likely would have required the filmmakers to give the company a fake name and position the film as satire. While Google didn’t pay for “The Internship,” they were allowed to approve of every piece of it. And given that they reportedly nixed a scene in which one of their driverless cars crashed, I’m sure that their controversial data collection practices and at times lax attitudes toward copyright were also off the table. As such, the humor is tepid Google-worship: Vaughn delights that Google provides all its employees unlimited free food, the interns participate in a Quiddich tournament, Wilson tries to flirt with a higher-up (Rose Byrne) in one of the company’s sanctioned nap areas despite its ‘no talking’ policy.
That’s not to say that the movie couldn’t have been funnier than it is, while maintaining its uncritical attitude toward Google. The first 20 minutes, which focus on the relationship between Vaughn and Wilson before they’re hired as interns, house a half-dozen good laughs and could have been used as a template for the rest of “The Internship.” Reunited for the first time since 2005’s mega-hit “Wedding Crashers,” these two have the bromance down pat, humorously taking their love for one another as far as it can go without entering homosexual territory (somehow, their joint rendition of Alanis Morisette’s “Ironic” in the opening scene manages to come across as thoroughly hetero). But as soon as they arrive at Google, the comedy becomes increasingly less about the men’s endearing dynamic and more about their interactions with Google employees and fellow interns. These characters are uniformly dull archetypes, from the cutthroat intern who plans to sabotage the protagonists (Max Minghella) to the tiger-mom-ed Asian genius (Tobit Raphael) to the white nerd who talks like he’s black in a misguided attempt to be cool (Josh Brener).
If it’s remembered at all (unlikely), “The Internship” will be known as perhaps the only contemporary film that ever took an entirely positive attitude toward a mammoth corporation outside Hollywood. However, given the openly liberal sensibilities of Google’s leadership, this is hardly the milestone it would have been had the film featured a conservatively-minded company. But who wanted that, either? The point is, “The Internship” certainly won’t be remembered for what matters: its jokes, which are as dated and vanilla as Netscape.