Hollywood is known for making you believe in almost anything, but a new comedy with Google as the backdrop may be asking too much. When I first heard about The Internship, the new comedy about a pair of 40-somethings (played by Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson) who land a coveted summer internship at Google competing against a bunch of college students, I couldn't understand why the search giant was willing to get involved.
Even though co-founder Larry Page stood on stage at Google's I/O developers conference and lauded the movie's ability to get kids interested in technology, the concept seemed silly and low-brow and, frankly, not up to Google's standards.
In fact, after watching it, I wanted nothing more than for the movie to be a true story, not just a fish-out-of-water fable set in the Googleplex. But that feeling had nothing to do with the movie's depiction of Google's too-good-to-be-true culture, perks or life-affirming mix of meritocracy and paternal benevolence. No, not at all.
If Google Can Do This In A Movie...
Instead, my fervor to believe centered around one pivotal scene where Vaughn and Owens must prove their mettle manning the phones on the Google Help Line.
That's right, the Google Help Line! Oh, but if it could possibly be so!
Of course, anyone who has ever dealt with Google knows that there really isn't anything like a Google Help Line - at least for the vast majority of customers. Google is great at providing online and automated customer service. But woe betide the Google user who needs help that goes beyond that.
Trying to reach a human being at Google is well-nigh impossible, and deliberately so. That kind of customer service just doesn't scale. Even big corporate customers sometimes get frustrated when they can't get the kind of help-desk support for which, say, Microsoft is known for. But Google knows that once you start down that rat hole, there's no coming back.
The Internship Is Not A Documentary
After the show, Vaughn, Owen and director Shawn Levy talked to the press and the 100 spiffed-up actual Google Interns (Nooglers, in the company's parlance) in attendance about how the movie wasn't even trying to hew very close to reality:
"A lot of stuff is realistic," Levy said, but "this was not a documentary on Google." The filmmakers were not trying to say "this is really how things are done." If we were making a movie about Google, we would have done it more accurately," he added. "But we were making a movie about these two guys, with Google as a backdrop."
Unlike in the movie, Levy acknowledged, real Google internships are not structured around hyper-competitive team contests with only the winning team getting job offers. But Vaughn, who came up with the story and co-wrote the movie, called that competition "the motor of the movie."
Google gave us creative license, Levy said, telling the audience that "It felt like you guys really respected the needs of the narrative." In return, he added, "We tried to be true to Google... however semi-accurate it may be in regards to how the internship program really works."
According to the LA Times, "Google did have approval over how its products and culture were represented in the film, but it did not have final cut." The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, reported that "when filmmakers wanted to introduce a scene in which Google's self-driving car gets into a wreck, Google objected and the crash was cut."
So what did Vaughn and Wilson think about the time they spent shooting the movie in Google's Mountain View, California, campus - with its free food, nap pods and colorful bicycles?
"It looked like a Sandals Resort," Vaughn joked.
"You assume a lot of work gets done there..." Wilson added.
"...But you never see anyone do any work," Vaughn concluded.
Top and bottom images by Fredric Paul for ReadWrite.