An Ex-Googler’s Take On “The Internship”

Editor’s note: Caroline McCarthy is a writer and branded content consultant living in New York. Previously, she worked at Google and before that as a tech reporter for CNET. Follow her on Twitter @caro.

When I worked as a marketer at Google and learned of an upcoming comedy called “The Internship,” which was to reunite “Wedding Crashers” duo Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson as unemployed 40-year-old salesmen who luck their way into Google internships, most of the reactions I heard from my co-workers could be summed up as “meh.” Neither Vaughn nor Wilson has had a truly funny movie in years. And, I’d surmise, most Googlers have reached a point where the company quirks that the outside world finds so odd and intriguing are accepted as more or less routine, and certainly not interesting enough to hold up the foundations of a decent movie.

Well, “The Internship” hit theaters today, and, I’ll admit, both as an ex-Googler and a moviegoer nostalgic for the “frat pack” comedies of the mid-2000s, it was significantly better than I expected it would be. In fact, the only thing that really, truly disappointed me about it was that nowhere in its hour and 50 minutes is the food fight scene from “Animal House” recreated with soba noodles and gluten-free banana pudding in a Google cafeteria. (I was really hoping for that.)

The unexpected enjoyability of “The Internship” is due in large part to the quippy dialogue between Billy (Vaughn) and Nick (Wilson), which very much resembles their banter in “Wedding Crashers.” This is at its best in the hilarious scene where the two are in a job interview over a Google+ Hangout (of course) and are given one of the notoriously convoluted brain-teaser questions that are now a solid part of Google lore. (For the record, my half-dozen interviews there didn’t contain a single one.) It also routinely gets very funny when the two fast talkers are forced to contend with a company full of extremely young people who, whether they’re earnestly overeager or bitterly snarky, are all wildly lacking in social skills.

That friction is what makes “The Internship” less a commentary on Silicon Valley (which 2010’s Facebook origin tale “The Social Network” certainly was) than it is on Gen-Y and its supposed best and brightest. Nick and Billy are Gen-X’ers of average brainpower who are used to professional success that comes from boots-on-the-ground routine and a skillful command of smooth talking, whereas their 21-year-old intern counterparts are caricatures of millennials raised on SAT prep classes and flickering screens — one kid stares at his smartphone all the time, another keeps referring to his overbearing “tiger mom,” for example. Naturally, this becomes Nick and Billy’s secret asset, as they can bring people skills to the table.

The InternshipBut “The Internship” also gets the vibe of working at Google about as well as Hollywood possibly could, from the proverbial Googley details like nap pods, free food, and indoor slides; to more insidery tidbits like accurate internal slang (foodback, TGIF) and the fact that the interns are housed in what appears to be a mid-century Motor Inn by the side of El Camino Real in Mountain View. If you have ever been a Googler who was based outside of the Bay Area, you probably stayed in one of these every time you visited the mothership.

Of course, it’s simplified. Though I was never a Google intern, I’m pretty sure that the intern program is not a summer-long competition reminiscent of a ’90s tween sports movies — the scene where teams of interns are pitted together in a Quidditch match (yes) felt like “The Big Green” on fast-forward. Google is so notoriously complex internally that employees like to say it will take you six months just to get situated, so I’ll give “The Internship” a pass on making things a bit more Hollywood-friendly. And nothing’s wildly off-base. The script was vetted by senior Google executives, and the movie was filmed in full cooperation with the company — a sizable portion of it on Google’s own campus. In fact, Google confirmed to CNN that they requested the removal of a scene in which a self-driving car crashes.

What’s most impressive to me as an ex-Googler is how well the movie nailed a few very nuanced realities of working at the company — perhaps by accident. In particular, “The Internship” subtly highlighted the weird balance that Googlers have to strike between being in a high-stress environment rife with deadlines while also being in a sun-soaked paradise of expansive lawns, candy-colored “G-Bikes,” and beach volleyball courts in between office buildings.

One character, a middle manager played by Rose Byrne, is chronically over-scheduled, overworked and under-slept, and there are a few subtle nods at how she’s become over-reliant on Google perks because she has literally no time for life outside the company (concierge dry-cleaning, for example). This combination of the casual and the ultracompetitive is a vibe that runs through pretty much all of Google culture, and kudos to the writers of “The Internship” for picking up on it so well.

That said, “The Internship” gets quite tedious when it starts to veer into a commercial for Google, like early on when Billy gets a little too vocal about the company being a bright spot of hope in the midst of a terrible economy. These moments are thankfully minimal. Several reviews of the movie have already ripped into it for what amounts to product placement because of all the Google products shown onscreen, but to be honest, this is one of the most true-to-Google aspects of the film. Step onto Google’s campus and it actually is a celebration of the things the company builds, from plush stuffed Androids in lounges to Chrome on everyone’s laptops to meetings conducted over Hangout. They’re everywhere.

That’s one of the things I loved the most about my two years at Google: Just about every team uses just about every other team’s products, creating a sense of company unity that’s still admirably intact given how big it’s  grown. The idea of teamwork is a big theme running through “The Internship” but also through Google itself. Sometimes our team-building moments really are that cheesy. (Man, sometimes I really miss that place.)

Oh, and there are two cameos by Google co-founder Sergey Brin. One’s very early in the movie, and one’s very late. Both are about half a second long, and the earlier one is particularly perfect.

But I’m still miffed there wasn’t a food fight.