Vince Vaughn has defended his movie The Internship against charges it is a two-hour ad for Google, arguing it is in fact a comedy deeply rooted in social realism.
"They didn't put up any money at all for the movie," the co-writer, co-producer and co-star of the film says of the tech company. "Google thankfully had a sense of humour about themselves, and I didn't want to make us work at 'Snoogle' – you know, you want a place that's real – but it's ultimately just a backdrop.
"Yes, you get a peek behind the chocolate factory, but it's really about wanting to start over, and I wanted to pick an industry that authentically felt like there was a future there."
The production spent two weeks shooting exterior scenes on the Google campus and recreated interiors in Atlanta for a story about two travelling watch salesmen – Vaughn and his Wedding Crashers co-star Owen Wilson – who suddenly find themselves out of work and, in a desperate bid to reinvent themselves for the digital age, apply for unpaid internships at Google.
And this, says Vaughn, is the real subject of the movie: it's about the economy, stupid, not a groovy tech company.
"I looked around and people in my life were saying 'Gosh, the job market's changed, what am I going to do?' and younger people were saying, 'I'm not that enthusiastic, coming out of school – I'm a little afraid.' I really looked around and tried to make a movie about what's going on. And what people find refreshing is that in a [northern hemisphere] summer where everything is a sequel or a franchise, this is an original idea that's for our time."
On this reading, then, rather than one long slab of product placement, we ought to see The Internship as a kind of modern-day Bicycle Thief. Perhaps. But whatever Vaughn's social-realist impulses, they clearly wrestled with his infatuation with the Googleplex.
"When I looked around at the economy, people that are a little bit older, sometimes the jobs they're doing are no longer valued, and for younger people entering the workforce it's a scary proposition. But I looked out at the tech companies and they're blowing up, they're very viable, they're expanding and doing stuff and it seems prosperous. And on top of that I just got a kick out of the lifestyle [at Google]. They have a campus and there's bikes. It's like a Club Med, an all-inclusive resort."
Google founder Sergey Brin appears fleetingly in the movie, but Vaughn insists there were limits to the access they were granted. Google Glass – the company's bizarre computer-in-a-pair-of-specs device, for instance – was strictly off limits.
"I went to a dinner party with some of the Google guys and they had it on and it was the first I'd seen it, but no, we didn't get any Google Glass or anything like that. They didn't give us anything."
In the film, Vaughn's character is a born salesman who struggles with the need to learn new skills, and falls back on old ones to get him through. Wilson's character is not such a natural as a spruiker, but he's the more adaptable of the two. There are hiccups along the way but, naturally, their combination of friendship, fast-talking and folksy wisdom (with a liberal sprinkling of Flashdance references) pulls them through in the end.
Ultimately, Vaughn says, "the movie has a lot of optimism to it ... there's something winning about people who are prepared to try".
That view is both undeniable and presumably in line with his political views. The son of a stockbroker and a realtor (his wife is also a realtor), Vaughn supported the small-government proponent and Tea Party favourite Ron Paul at the 2008 and 2012 US presidential elections.
That means Vaughn occupies a fairly lonely spot on the Hollywood political spectrum, but late last year he found powerful company when he joined with controversial former Fox News presenter Glenn Beck to launch The Pursuit of Truth, billed as "a new reality series to find the next great documentary film".
A spokesman for the project said in December: "The documentary film, particularly those that seek the truth with no agenda, is an important art form that is struggling to survive in this media environment."
What are the chances, do you think, that one of the entrants might be planning an expose of Google?