Film club: The Internship

A new movie about work experience at Google with some old-school stars and themes, says Hannah Langworth

Once, companies that manufactured cars drove the American economy, but now technology companies are arguably its flagship engines of growth - and hence a job with one of them is one of the most desirable career destinations for the brightest and best graduates.

In new film The Internship, we're taken inside this brave new Silicon Valley world in the company of longstanding comedy partners Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, here playing 40-something salesmen hoping for a new start. "Think of the greatest amusement park you ever saw as a kid," says Wilson's character of the Googleplex, the internet company's California headquarters, "this is nothing like it, and a thousand times better!"

Multicoloured bikes, volleyball courts, glass walls, endless sushi - the Google campus appears to have every modern life essential, certainly in the eyes of the eager interns who take part in the work experience programme around which the film revolves.

The comedy comes in part from the gentle fun made of Google's geeky and earnest "ugly people and free cereal" vibe. There are helicopter "New-gler" hats for the interns, a glimpse of Sergey Brin on a Segway, and much mention of "Googlyness".

But the funniest bits of the film come from seeing this quirky environment through the world-weary eyes of Vaughn and Wilson, who are nearly always entertaining to watch. Here they do their familiar routine in the setting of a "mental Hunger Games against a bunch of genius kids for just a handful of jobs" as their characters attempt to reboot their careers via an Apprentice-style summer competition.

What results is an old versus young mashup where Vaughn and Wilson, still firmly rooted in a world of Alanis Morissette, Flashdance and wristwatches, have to get to grips with Professor X, Quidditch and Outliers, not to mention the small matters of coding, apps and all the other intricacies of what Vaughn's character initially calls the "on-the-line" world.

But, says Wilson in a pep talk to him at one point, "you're tough - you grew up in the 70s, without computers, bike helmets or sunscreen," and eventually the initial culture clash with their more youthful colleages is overcome, and old and young teach each other a thing or two en route to a feelgood ending. The film's plot progresses along a pretty much standard-issue fairytale trajectory, complete with a pretty but work-obsessed 30-something as a Sleeping Beauty love interest (appropriately wooed by Wilson by the nap pods), a dastardly British villain, and a fairy - but also rather tech beardy-style hairy - godmother.

There are some dubious bits, particularly an odd central sequence where attaining maturity is effectively equated with doing tequila shots and hanging out with lapdancers. In this part of the film at least, the middle-aged man perspective on life Vaughn and Wilson's characters exhibit definitely needs to be dragged firmly into the 21st century.

And some might say the film is a bit too much of a glorified marketing exercise (Google had no editorial control but co-operated with the filmmakers) that's hard to swallow in places - good luck with finding the featured manned Google helpline in real life, for instance, and the frequent glib assurances that Google is making the world a better place sound a little out of tune given the recent revelations about the PRISM programme.

But the film ultimately redeems itself with an outrageously over-the-top ending that's cheesy in a fun way both literally (there's pizza involved) and metaphorically (Flashdance-themed choreography!) and an entertaining modern reworking of the conclusion of every root-for-the-underdog movie you've ever seen.

"I have a job!" screams one character at the film's euphoric climax. But in some ways, his extreme joy just serves to emphasise how depressing facing the working world for the first time can feel today. One student says to Vaughn and Wilson earlier in the film: "Do you know what's it's like to be 21 now? The American dream you grew up on no longer exists." The film shows that in the movies at least, and just maybe in the fantastical landscape of Silicon Valley, it does.

The Internship is on general release in UK cinemas from Wednesday 3 July.

The Gateway takeaways

Business and careers lessons you could learn from this film

  • Be prepared for unusual interview questions: Vaughn and Wilson have to imagine being shrunk to the size of small change and dropped to the bottom of a blender. What would you do?
  • Remember the "layover test": Recruiters in the film explain that they'd never hire anyone, however clever or experienced, if they wouldn't be happy to be stuck on a long business trip with them. And that doesn't mean not being yourself - especially at Google, being "just weird enough to be interesting" can be a definite plus.
  • Business means selling and selling means people: Even at high-tech Google, Vaughn and Wilson's old-school sales abilities are highly valued, and they show that selling, whether the product's old or new, is always about connecting with people, "not just kissing ass".