Review: We’re the Millers (2013)

We’re the Millers


Rawson Marshall Thurber
Bob Fisher, Steve Faber, Sean Anders, John Morris
110 min.
Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Emma Roberts, Will Poulter, Ed Helms, Nick Offerman, Kathryn Hahn, Molly Quinn, Tomer Sisley, Matthew Willig, Luis Guzman, Thomas Lennon
MPAA Rating
R for crude sexual content, pervasive language, drug material and brief graphic nudity.

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It’s unfortunate in today’s cinema that we have to separate traditional comedies from gross-out comedies because of a seeming lack of quality. We’re the Millers may play by conventional, modern broad comedy standards, but it’s so outrageously funny at times that you can almost forget the overbearing strictures of the script.

David Clark (Jason Sudeikis) is a drug dealer. After a moment of compassion, he’s rolled and his stash and money are taken, leaving him in debt to a supposedly friendly drug kingpin (Ed Helms). In exchange for a forgiveness of his debt, David is given an opportunity to travel to Mexico, pick up a stash of drugs and return it to him in the U.S. The problem is he needs a satisfactory cover to get past the border checkpoints. Enter Rose (Jennifer), Casey (Emma Roberts) and Kenny (Will Poulter) who, for a small cut of the money, agree to portray his family on this road trip.

It’s a road trip comedy, so you can except absolutely off-the-wall jokes, insane situations and implausible problems along the way. Many of them are entirely expected, but a few moments pop out that surprise the audience and are all the more humorous for it.

Two years prior, Aniston had a supporting role in another outlandish comedy, Horrible Bosses. While I vastly adore that film more than his, I can’t deny that Aniston has found a comedic niche that fits her style and personality perfectly. Rose is a sassy, aging strip club dancer who doesn’t want to admit that she’s in a dead-end job and needs to find something else to do with her life. Drug smuggling seems like a natural step up and, as such, she devotes herself heavily to the endeavor. Aniston portrays the anger and frustration well, but when she takes charge of herself and her “family,” she gets even better.

Sudeikis isn’t one of my favorite actors. There’s something entirely off-putting about his smugness. Yet, those personality traits fit him like a glove in this film and like his performance in Horrible Bosses, it can work quite well if given the right material. Roberts isn’t perfect as the wounded, angry street urchin Casey, disdainful of participating in the caper, but realizing along with the others that a genuine family life is what she needs. Poulter is dedicated and humorous, but the character has been played out. He’s a sheltered, inexperienced goofball who merely wants to be accepted and loved. Had he given Kenny a more wizened personality, it might have felt more genuine, but his position as comic relief to the deadpan reactions of the others doesn’t feel like a natural fit.

This is director Rawson Marshall Thurber’s third feature outing as a director and, apart from developing a satisfactory eye for comic timing, the film feels so formulaic, pushing from joke to joke with the requisite, and clichéd, downbeats for “emotional” moments. The road comedy has been a fixture of American cinema for decades and while the 1970’s saw our last spate of zany all-star romps, it seems a new era is arising. This new era owes a great deal to films like Cannonball Run and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Yet, those films were able to thrive while still delivering compelling narrative thrusts. Someone needs to reinvent this wheel and a director like Thurber isn’t the one to do it.

We’re the Millers is fun, entertaining and provides the occasional emotional investment. Were it not for the cast, though, the film would suffer tremendously, the cracks in its thin narrative veneer would shine through. That being said, you don’t pick up a film like this without realizing that it won’t provide the psychological satisfaction. This enables you to let the madcap entertainment propel you to the end and not worry that it isn’t more than it appears to be on the surface.
Review Written
February 20, 2014