Google consistently comes out on top of workplace happiness surveys, but does the real experience match up to those primary-colored rainbows? Our friends at ReadWrite explain how they wish the Google of the new movie The Internship was the real deal.
By Fredric Paul
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 cofounder 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, low-brow, and, frankly, not up to Google's standards.
After attending a private screening of the flick — which opens in the US on June 7 — I now totally get why Google jumped in with both feet when cowriter Vince called with the idea two years ago. The movie is a two-hour love letter to the idea of Google as both the perfect place to work — and a crusading force for improving humankind. (Some see it as little more than a commercial.)
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 Vince and Owen 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.
But the movie isn't a documentary, as the filmmakers emphasize when you read on.
The Internship Is Not a Documentary
After the show, Vince, 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," Shawn 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, Shawn acknowledged, real Google internships are not structured around hypercompetitive team contests with only the winning team getting job offers. But Vince, who came up with the story and cowrote the movie, called that competition "the motor of the movie."
Google gave them creative license, Shawn 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 Los Angeles 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 Vince and Owen think about the time they spent shooting the movie in Google's Mountain View, CA, campus, with its free food, nap pods, and colorful bicycles?
"It looked like a Sandals Resort," Vince joked.
"You assume a lot of work gets done there . . . " Owen added.
". . . But you never see anyone do any work," Vince concluded.
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