MCN Columnists
Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: The Internship



U.S.: Shawn Levy, 2013

Vince Vaughn is an actor who tends to work better with partners—Jon Favreau in Swingers, for example. Still, when it came to 2005’s Wedding Crashers, he and Owen Wilson hit the mother lode of buddy-buddy comedy. It’s one of the funnier movies of the millennium, and Vaughn and Wilson, as two swinging young lawyers who crash weddings for the goodies and the women, had sizzling early-Martin & Lewis-style chemistry. Like all comedy teams that click, they were, are, a study in contrasts. Vaughn was fast-talking \; Wilson was slow. Vaughn was tall and hunky; Wilson was average and clunky. Vaughn was tart; Wilson was sweet.  Vaughn was something of a cynic; Wilson was something of a romantic. We liked Wilson; we were a little leery of Vaughn.

They were like most primo movie comic teams. each supplied something the other lacked. They clicked, it worked, and I can still remember the constant, explosive bursts of laughter they and their movie generated in the packed house where I and a beautiful lady-friend first saw the picture., both laughing ourselves silly.

Times change. The world moves on. The Bush Era is so over, it seems more like the Roaring Twenties, or even the Pleistocene Age. And the idea of swinging lawyers, crashing weddings to glom onto free food and casual sex, seems less like a fun party, and more like economic necessity. Vaughn and Wilson’s newest collaboration, The Internship — an attempt to catch at least part of  Wedding Crashers’ comedy lightning in another slick bottle — strips them of the comforts of status and money, and makes them a couple of ordinary (or at least more ordinary) guys up against it.  And it fails, almost abjectly, although these guys haven’t necessarily lost their charm or their chemistry, even though they were thirtysomethings then, and fortysomethings now, and they’re playing to an audience with a core of of twentysomethings (and older), plus whatever twelvesomethings get in on the PG-13.

The ultimate example of movie product placement (I hope), and a relative disgrace to the memory of Wedding Crashers, The Internship is also the ultimate suck-up to Google, the wildly popular, omnipresent  computer search engine which helped change society, the economy, and our lifestyles — and, our heroes hope, can now change, for the better, their life-styles and economy too. To that end, Wilson and Vaughn play Nick Campbell and Billy McMahon,  a hapless pair of slick-talking, but now obsolete, designer watch sales guys, whose company has dissolved. They hear about it first from their potential customers, who probably got it from Google. And, when they check in with their ex-boss (John Goodman, uncredited, doing a John Goodman knock-off), he informs them —  unhappily, because they’re a likable pair and because he’s John Goodman — that they’re dinosaurs, that he’s a dinosaur too, and that he’s heading for Florida, Adios suckers.

Things get worse. Billy returns home to discover he’s lost his home and girlfriend  (to foreclosure). He moves into Nick‘s apartment and (temporarily) his bed. Nick, temporarily girlfriendless,  goes off to start a new job: selling  mattresses for his sister’s horny, self-infatuated boyfriend  (Will Ferrell, uncredited, at his most  Ferrellesque). But, in the middle of Nick’s first mattress pitch, Billy comes rushing in and collars him,  proclaiming that he’s found it: the answer, the passport to paradise, the jackpot, or what Max Bialystock would call “the mother of them all.” He’s arranged for the two of them to apply for summer internships at Google, a (fictional)  opportunity seemingly reserved for twenty-something college computer whizbangs, But it’s a chance that Billy is sure the two of them can win, digitally challenged as they may be — with the help of a double enrollment to the online Phoenix University (Google it if you don’t believe him) and a lot of slick, snappy patter, some of it improvised.

At this point, if you have any aversion to the computer age, you might as well walk out of he theater and try to find John Goodman in Florida, because that’s as funny as things get. Billy and Nick show up at Google headquarters around San Francisco, and get selected as one of the competing teams of interns by a (mostly  young) Google panel of experts. And he rest of  the movie is a long, mushy, French wet kiss and Swedish Massage and Silicon Valley mash note to Google, in which we discover that Google is a great place to work, a great place to sample (or horde, as Billy does) free food in their cafeteria, a great place to start up two new romances, a great place to play something that looks like soccer for lunatics, a great place to sleep it off after a bender at the strip clubs, and a great place to jump-start the economy, at lest if you’re Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson and you’re now crashing computers instead of weddings.

It’s a standard script and it touches all the bases you think it will, not very amusingly. There’s the thrill-a-minute intern competition — in which oldsters Nick and Billy naturally are teamed up with the last pick geeks nobody else wants :repressed  mama’s boy Yo-Yo Santos (Tobit Raphael), smart-ass wet blanket Stuart (Dylan O’Brien) cutie-pie Neha (Tiya Sircar), and their Google manager, Lyle (Josh Brener), a nerd trying to be hip. There’s the seeming taskmaster contest boss Mr. Chetty (Aasif Mahdvi) and meanie Brit snob nemesis Graham (Max Minghella), whose team keeps beating them, while he keeps dissing them. There’s a mysterious campus  figure the credits list as “Headphones” (Josh Gad), who obviously will pop up later.  There are  the romances we promised for Nick and Billy — namely with initially snippy Aussie Google gal  Dana (Rose Byrne) and another Googler, Marielena (Jessica Szohr), who also works at the strip club. There is Google jargon, like “nooglers” and “googlier,“ and there are screw-ups, and reconciliations, and innumerable renditions of  “What a Feeling” from Flashdance, which must be the a favorite song of one of the producers, or one of the writers — or both if they happen to be producer-co-writer-costar Vince Vaughn.

Most of all, there’s an ending you can small coming a mile off, or two miles, or three. (Hell, Google it.)

The idea behind the movie, which appealed to me,   is that Billy and Nick may be old. (Old? Isn’t 40 the new 20?) And they may be phonies, and they may be a broke in an economy getting broker, but they still have something to offer the twentysomethings of Silicon Valley, and Mr. Chetty: their humanity, their street smarts, and their chemistry. That’s the message of The Internship, and it comes courtesy of co-producer/co-writer/costar  (the one that probably likes Flashdance), Vince Vaughn, who also had the idea of reuniting with Wilson, and wrapping a movie around Google and Google culture. He also co-wrote ,with Jared Stein, (The Watch and Mr. Popper‘s Penguins)) the jam-packed, fast-paced dialogue — most of which he speaks so fast you can sometimes barely catch it. Unfortunately, everyone at the movie’s Google tends to have the same rhythm and voice, which gets Googly-monotonous.

Vaughn was also nice and unselfish enough to write his movie buddy Owen a better part than he wrote for himself. Not that much better, but Wilson does get to do the scene where he demonstrates to his dinner date (Byrne) just how bad a date and a dinner  can be. And that’s also, belatedly,  about as funny as the movie gets after the beginning.


The Internship was directed by Shawn Levy (of those Nights at the Museum), with all the Hollywood casual glamour and big movie shine he can muster — and Levy makes everything look pretty good. Keeping things lively and energetic even when the script wallows in formula or collapses into Googlyism. The Internship is actually onto something interesting — the effects of the collapsed economy on guys who were used to  having a never-ending party and never growing up, and being nurtured by corporations or the government.

That’s an interesting subject.  But probably the right way to make a funny comedy our of it, is not to play favorites (as this movie obviously does with Google), but to invent a fictitious search engine company, and then feel freer to satirize it. It’s a cliché (or should we say, a tradition) of movie comedy that  the comic heroes, even if they’ve mostly been boobs or phonies, straighten up and win out in the end. But this movie’s worshipful attitude toward Google tends to kill the humor — even if some of the touches, like the Google beanies (are they for real?), seem like satire.

. There are funny movie comedies that use real-life commercial products and even make fun of them — as Billy Wilder did when he had Jimmy Cagney as a hot-tempered Coca Cola Executive in West Berlin in One, Two, Three, screaming at the end, when a Pepsi bottle dropped out of one of his Coke machines. But Shawn Levy is no Billy Wilder. And Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson are no Matthau and Lemmon, even if, to some of the new audience, the stars of Wedding Crashers may seem like two grand old men of show business. Here, a lot of the time, they’re gabbing their way through a third-rate Googlier bromance and the infomercial from Hell. And it’s painful. Who would have thought there’d come a time when one bad movie would make us nostalgic for the Bush years?

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon