Sunday, June 9, 2013

Google Hangout: THE INTERNSHIP

The Internship is an amiable hangout movie. It’s little more than a chance to spend time with an appealing cast playing pleasant types. At the center of its appeal is the duo of Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, reteaming for the first time since their successful 2005 comedy Wedding Crashers. They’re both fast talkers, but where Vaughn muscles through with nonstop bravado, Wilson has a spacier syncopation. When both motormouths get up to speed, they find a fine, easy rhythm. This new comedy finds them surrounded by a capable cast that rises ever so slightly above glorified reaction shots in a plot that’s loose to put it generously. And yet I found myself enjoying sitting with this film much more than Crashers, which I’ve always found to be a tad on the grating side. I didn’t realize until I saw this one that my biggest problem with the earlier film was all that pesky plot. Sometimes a good, agreeable hangout is just what’s needed.

As the film begins, Vaughn and Wilson lose their jobs when the company they work for closes. Desperate to find better prospects, they bluff their way into summer internships at Google, where they quickly find themselves bewildered on the wrong side of a generation gap. The interns are placed into teams and the kids – a young manager (Josh Brener), a cute collegiate nerd (Tiya Sircar), a too-cool-for-school dude (Dylan O’Brien), and a self-conscious, socially awkward computer whiz (Tobit Raphael) – who get stuck with the old guys are none to happy about it. They’re an awkward bunch, but if you suspect they just might eventually, reluctantly learn to love each other and work as a team by using each member’s best skills you’d be on the right track. The team that wins the most points in various challenges over the summer, everything from coding to Quidditch, will win jobs at Google. Nods toward typical slobs (our protagonists) versus snobs (led by Max Minghella) plotting, as well as the basic competitive drive, make up the movie’s loose throughline.

It’s not often you find a light, summery comedy about how terrible the job market is. For a while, I remained unconvinced that it would work. But a funny thing happened as I sat there and let the movie play out: it won me over. The way the script by Vaughn and Jared Stern locates the anxieties of the two leads right inside the generation gap – they’re too young to ignore technology, too old to fully “get” it – becomes a somewhat productive dialogue. They grow progressively open-minded about younger people and new ways of doing things, while their teammates grow more open-minded about the value of input from people with more of an old school skill set. It’s a soft movie, but a few of the points it dances around are more perceptive than I anticipated. There’s a nice moment where Wilson and Vaughn chastise the younger interns for being so cynical about their future careers and when the response comes – “Do you even know what it’s like to be 21 today?” with a college degree no longer guaranteeing a job, if it ever was – they’re actually taken aback and consider it.

None of this would work without the cast. Director Shawn Levy, of Cheaper by the Dozen and Date Night, keeps the scenes casual and sociable, letting the ensemble fall into comfortable grooves to fill the scripted sequences with a bit of a loose feeling. Vaughn and Wilson have a relaxed chemistry that’s very appealing. Various supporting roles filled by the likes of Rose Byrne, Aasif Mandvi, and Josh Gad are fine bits of color around the edges. I was most taken with the work of O’Brien and Sircar, two of the college-aged interns who spar and banter with the main guys. Their winning performances are charming and feel like they’re circling some sort of generational truth, mediating their experience through smart phones and admitting to a technologically enabled imagination that’s wilder and more experienced than their real world lives to date.

This isn’t anything great, but it’s sweeter than expected. It’s refreshing to find a big studio comedy that’s just plain nice. (It’s also likely the only Hollywood comedy you’ll see in some time to purposefully allude to a Langston Hughes poem.) The movie hates jerks, lets characters feel bad about bad decisions, and angles for encouragement and hope above all else. It’s miles more humane and watchable than Ted or The Hangover Part II or any other corrosive-yet-popular comedy of the past several years. If this core decency leads the film into its biggest misstep, so be it. The approach to its setting feels miscalculated, so dewy-eyed about how great it is to work at Google – just shy of Wonka in the whimsy department, if the production design filled with pedal-powered conference tables and nap pods is to be believed – that it shoots past elaborate product placement and ends up feeling like it’s having a goof. Still, this is a movie that’s enjoyable to be around. Simply spending time together may not actually solve generation gaps, but it’s nice to think so for a couple hours.

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