News Column

Google Stars in Latest US Workplace Comedy

June 6, 2013

Andy Goldberg, dpa

In the annals of Hollywood movie history, the great American workplace is most often seen as a depressing, boring and soulless environment, where workers are treated almost like slaves and bosses are cruel, petty, rapacious and ruthless.

The stereotypes are central to movies like Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times (1936), through films like Network (1976) and George Clooney's Up in the Air (2010).

But the latest workplace movie, The Internship, is the complete opposite, painting workplace life at a modern technology company as a fun-filled meritocracy, where workers and bosses are sympathetic, and where the perks are so good you never want to leave.

The film rekindles the Wedding Crashers "bromance" between Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, who in The Internship star as a couple of old-school watch salesmen who decide to apply to Google when they are fired from their jobs.

They become Nooglers (that's "New Googlers" for those unfamiliar with the local speech terms at the cult-like company), where their efforts to shine among 1,500 20-something brainiacs are an apt and often amusing metaphor for the struggles many older folks face in adapting to a fast-moving digital world, where youth is prized above all.

They run after a car to ask directions, only to discover it's one of the company's driverless vehicles, and they dodge a bearded guy in yoga pants on a scooter - a cameo role for the company's billionaire founder Sergey Brin.

The appearance of Brin underlines the immense cooperation Google gave to director Shawn Levy, whose work on A Night at the Museum apparently convinced the company that he was capable of depicting large institutions in a sympathetic light.

The film takes an uneven approach to the accuracy of its depiction of the web software giant. It's true, for instance, that Google hires some 1,500 of the brightest college students in the US every year, but it does not pit them against each other in ultra-competitive games as depicted in the movie.

The movie's arch villain, an arrogant British intern, would also not be likely to ever be accepted at Google, company insiders say.

The film seems to take the company's motto of Don't Be Evil at face value, and never even touches on oft-heard complaints about Google's privacy breaches and monopolization of web searches.

Though Google did not have veto power over any scenes in the film, it did voice reservations over an episode in which the driverless car crashes - an incident which belied the vehicles' exemplary safety record.

Google granted the filmmakers unparalleled access to its staff and the Googleplex - its complex of luxuriously appointed buildings that are the firm's Silicon Valley HQ.

The company's collaborative approach was in marked contrast to the decision of Facebook to ignore and obstruct the makers of the last big tech-themed movie, The Social Network.

But though Google comes out of the movie as a sort of workplace paradise for smart 20-somethings, the company said it agreed to cooperate not to burnish its image, but in order to get more kids interested in computer science.

"The reason we got involved in that is because computer science has a marketing problem," Page said last month during an appearance at a Google conference for programmers in San Francisco. "We are the nerdy curmudgeons."

Page said that the movie's coolest character was a headphone-wearing, mostly silent engineer who ends up playing a key role in the climactic scene.

"We are really excited about that," he said.

Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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