Review: The Internship

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The Internship Still Photo

Actors Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson pair up for the first time since their wildly successful 2005 movie, The Wedding Crashers, in The Internship, which opens in wide release today. The onscreen team that prefers to play by their own rules has gone from chasing skirts to competing for a coveted job at one of the largest tech vanguards, Google. What results is a fairly lighthearted comedy that attempts to transcend the transgenerational gap by including current pop-culture references alongside outdated ones from the 1980s. Rather than bridge that gap, these references provide an opportunity for The Internship to be appreciated by a broader audience.

The premise of The Internship is built on fairly simple principles: The digital age is no place for watch salesmen Billy (Vaughn) and Nick (Wilson), with everyone dependent on their smartphones to check the time of day. When the boss (John Goodman) closes up shop without warning, the pair must find a way to start anew.

Nick reluctantly accepts a job at a mattress store owned by his brother-in-law (Will Ferrell in a cameo), but Billy has bigger dreams. Billy gets lucky when he discovers that Google is interviewing for their summer internship program. The pair are then on their way to Mountain View, California, to the Google campus where they are faced with job competitors half their age and exponentially more tech-savvy. They must collaborate with their team of misfit geeks if they want to win new jobs.

The Internship contains some sidesplitting laughs, most often from Billy and Nick's attempts to embrace modern culture, such as video conferencing or workplace ethics principles. The writing is fairly balanced in regards to not relying solely on the lead actors -- rather, a slight amount of attention is given to the supporting characters on Billy and Nick's "Noogle" team. This approach allows Vaughn to take on a more fatherly role, although I don't think most fathers would take their twentysomething kids to a strip club and encourage them to drink copious amounts of alcohol.

A message of the The Internship that isn't played out fully is that technology and social media are creating a generation of young people lacking basic social skills, due to "techgazing" into their phones or laptops rather than engaging with live people. This subplot, built primarily around Stuart (Dylan O'Brien), could have been fleshed out a bit more, as well as the character of Neha (Tiya Sirca) -- the pair of characters are hastily thrust together almost as an afterthought with no visible chemistry prior to the closing scenes. I found the subplot of homeschooled Yo-Yo Santos (Tobit Raphael) quite disturbing, in which his trichotillomania is a result of bullying from his overbearing mother, and his missing eyebrow was a constant reminder of her disapproval of demonstrative love and pressure to succeed ... not to mention her physical beatings.

The Internship was well cast, with Vaughn a bit more restrained than we've seen in many of his roles. Wilson is his typical self and well suited for playing off Vaughn's verbosity, but comes across more as playing rather than actually being the character of Nick. The  supporting cast members were excellent, and I especially enjoyed Aasif Mandvi's role as the formidable Mr. Chetty.

What many viewers might find most appealing about The Internship is the opportunity to see behind the curtain, although one has to wonder how much this fictionalized version resembles the reality of the Google internship program process. Heavy product placement from the gamut of Google applications alludes to a heavy involvement in script approval, almost as if the writing was put through Google's own SafeSearch filters. This theory applies not just to the representation of the inner workings of Google, but also the oddity of the intern team stumbling across the only strip club in San Francisco where the dancers don't actually take their clothes off.

Speaking of which, with a rating of PG-13 it's understandable why no nudity is portrayed onscreen in The Internship. Seated next to a 13-year-old during the screening, however, I found myself squirming at the verbal jokes and physical humor surrounding sex and testicles. Oddly enough, she was more bothered by plot holes that she'd noticed rather than the references, perhaps confirming the generational gap and the desensitization of our youth at an earlier age. I would still caution parents to consider whether this film is age appropriate.

Overall, I enjoyed The Internship ... but don't expect it to be the comedy of the year for 2013.