My wife and I set aside one evening a week, either Friday or Saturday, to potentially watch a movie from Xfinity On-Demand. I say potentially, since things can go in either direction. Various factors hold sway over us actually sitting down and clicking the on-screen “Buy” button. First, there can be no Wizards games being broadcast during Prime Time during the NBA season on the night in question–these have priority. Second, neither one of us can be too tired to stay awake during the entire movie. This is a huge waste of entertainment dollars. And third, and most importantly, we both must be in agreement on what to watch. A breakdown in negotiations on what to watch is the number one contributor to us turning off the TV and going our separate ways on a Friday evening.
The sad truth is that my wife and I don’t have similar tastes in movies, or TV shows for that matter. The only reason Xfinity (Comcast) gets any more of our money beyond the exorbitant amount they extort from us each month for basic Cable, Phone, and Internet is due to an informal chit system my wife and I employ. It’s a system based on a combination of negotiation, strong arm tactics, and compromise (total capitulation). I’ve been conditioned to take one (or many) for the team and watch movies that make me cringe in order to cash in my chits to watch films on my “must watch” list. This has allowed me to view high-quality works such as “The Place Beyond The Pines”, “Dallas Buyers’ Club”, and “Bad Grandpa”. My latest sacrifice for the team involved sitting through “The Internship”.
“The Internship” was roundly panned by both critics and audiences on RottenTomatoes.com, so I went in with lowered expectations. But sometimes this is a good position to operate from. You can always get surprised, right? I was also hoping that my background in technology and being a regular user of Google’s myriad platforms and apps would allow me to tease out interesting tidbits from the film that others might overlook. And the prospect of getting a glimpse inside the Googleplex might be interesting. That was the hope anyway.
[Warning: The following review contains minor spoilers…but does it really matter?]
The plot of the movie involves two out of work watch salesmen, Billy (Vince Vaughn) and Nick (Owen Wilson), who manage to land positions as summer interns at Google by goofing their way through a Skype interview. Their age and quirkiness causes one of the managers at Google to lobby for their inclusion in the program. The film portrays Billy and Nick as “over the hill,” which doesn’t bode well if being in your mid-forties constitutes being old and out of touch.
There is a funny scene early on when their boss, played by John Goodman, informs them that he’s shuttering the business because no one wears watches any more. As proof, Goodman asks his elderly secretary what time it is. She promptly pulls out her cellphone to check the time. It seems watches are now just worn as expensive status symbols or in environments and occupations where bringing along a smartphone is impractical such as underwater or free-falling from an airplane.
The film is a cookie cutter, formula buddy pic and could have been alternately titled: “The Wedding Crashers Crash The Googleplex”—just much less funny. The comedic sendups are broadcast a mile away such as when Billy and Nick first arrive at the Plex and attempt to ask directions from a Google driverless car. The drama and comedy in the film comes from Billy and Nick being matched up with much younger team members to take on a series of five challenges as part of the competition to determine who will receive coveted jobs at Google. Of course, our heroes BS and stumble their way through the ones requiring technical skill. The challenges that they prove capable of are the ones involving “soft” people skills. I think it’s insulting that they stereotype technically talented (read nerdy) young people as devoid of social skills. It’s even more offensive and false to characterize people in their forties as clueless about computers and technology. These days, almost everyone, regardless of vintage, has some proficiency with technology.
If there’s a message to be taken from “The Internship” it’s that the job market is shrinking. And it’s close to vanishing for those without advanced technical skills such as software development and technical sales. And if you’re unskilled and “old” then you’re done for, unless of course, you’re extremely cunning and fortunate like Billy and Nick. To some extent, I think this is true—not the cunning and scheming part—that only happens in bad movies.
There’s a lot of discussion right now about retraining unemployed workers from the manufacturing and services industries for many of the technical jobs that currently go wanting. I think this is a noble effort, but I think the reality is much less hopeful. Not everyone can become a software developer regardless of how much training he receives. The challenge in the coming years will be how to integrate workers with marginal or obsolete skills back into the US economy. Not effectively addressing this issue will have dire consequences for everyone.
The last challenge that Billy’s and Nick’s team is presented with, and the one that sent them over the finish line to victory, is the sales challenge. It’s again, another setup where the outcome is known from the start. The team was attempting to sell Google’s advertising services (AdWords, Maps, etc.) to a local pizza parlor. The youngsters predictably stumbled in their presentations to the old school owner and used tech jargon that made their pitches sound about as appealing as an IRS audit. Billy and Nick then swoop in and save the day by establishing a rapport with the owner by discussing the delicate flavors in his marinara sauce. They go in for the kill when they stoke his excitement by proposing to bring his unique product to a larger audience using Google products. Deal closed!
I could relate to this final challenge since I attempted, for the most part unsuccessfully, to sell similar services to local businesses. No manner of rapport building and education was enough for me to overcome the degree of ignorance and flat out reluctance on the part of these folks to spend a penny beyond the status quo to help their businesses. I decided my time and skills could be more profitably directed elsewhere.
Bottomline: “The Internship” was entertaining for the time and $4.99 spent. I got a firsthand glimpse into the Googleplex and a sense if its culture, though not sure how accurately the culture was depicted. You can get a better sense of Google’s culture by observing how they treat their users and their customers (Advertisers). In a way, it seems like “The Internship” is a promotional (propaganda) film endorsed by Google.
Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, makes two cameos in the film. I only spotted the one at the end. I had to use Google to find the other one at the beginning. But perhaps most importantly, my wife proclaimed “The Internship” one of the best films she’s seen in a while. Just more credits in the On-Demand bank for me. I’m saving up to have enough to watch “Nebraska”.