We’re the Millers is the latest offering from director Rawson Marshall Thurber – best known for the fan-favorite 2004 comedy Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story starring Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller. Trading sports for drug smuggling, We’re the Millers centers on aging pot dealer David Clark (Jason Sudeikis) who is robbed of his stash and cash after attempting to stop an assault on the street. Indebted to his supplier Brad Gurdlinger (Ed Helms) for the money that was lost, Clark agrees to help smuggle a large shipment of marijuana out of Mexico and into the states.
Inexperienced in the high risk-world of narcotics trafficking, Clark comes up with a plan to stay off the DEA’s radar by traveling in an RV with a faux-family comprised of his neighbors – a middle-aged stripper named Rose O’Reilly (Jennifer Aniston) and nerdy high schooler Kenny Rossmore (Will Poulter) – along with transient troublemaking teen, Casey Mathis (Emma Roberts). On their border crossing trip, the group encounters one setback after another, each one bringing them a step closer to their promised payday – as well as a taste of family they’ve each been missing.
Given its R-Rated setup – which includes strippers and swingers, in addition to the main drug smuggling plot line – We’re the Millers is not going to be for everyone. It’s an unapologetic and self-indulgent comedy that often takes its jokes one step across the line into some genuinely uncomfortable (and subsequently funny) territory. Viewers who are easily offended, or were expecting a heartwarming cross-country tale, aren’t likely to appreciate the type of humor that Thurber is out to explore. That said, while We’re the Millers easily provides some of the most hilarious (and shocking) comedy beats in recent memory, the film is far from flawless. Several of the characters are held hostage by thin caricature and the overall plot is a mishmash of genuinely creative familial awkwardness dragged down by a number of excessive gags that can, at times, wear out their welcome.
The storyline succeeds in selling the core premise, providing a good reason (i.e. cash money) for the fake family to come together – not to mention stick together once things get complicated. The overarching plot itself offers few surprises, and relies heavily on familiar stories of characters that are united by financial hardship – only to discover a deeper sense of camaraderie on their journey. Yet, the various comedy beats that punctuate the experience are rife with life and inventiveness – made possible by a cast that commits to each of the madcap setups.
Sudeikis spends a majority of the film with a goofy smirk on his face and the Clark character is responsible for many of the film’s cliche story beats. However, even though Clark is the least memorable (or likable) of the main cast, Sudeikis makes smart use of the role – goading his supporting players instead of hogging the spotlight. As a result, Anniston deserves a lot of credit – since the actress, and her Rose character, essentially carry several of the most outrageous moments in the movie. Given that Clark isn’t the most sensitive (or fatherly) leading man, Rose is tasked with injecting much needed heart into the proceedings and is key in elevating We’re the Millers above similar raunch-comedy offerings.
Poulter steals several of the film’s best scenes and Kenny is easily the most engaging member of the Miller “family.” Audiences should have no problem empathizing with the character’s journey from naive boy into manhood – especially in his interactions with Melissa Fitzgerald (Molly C. Quinn), a beautiful but shy teenage girl that takes a liking to Kenny while on the open road. Unfortunately, Roberts isn’t given quiet as much to do and, despite a somewhat heavy-handed arc in the film’s third act, Casey is mostly relegated to serving as a foil for Kenny.
The cast is rounded out by a ridiculous contribution from Helms, along with a solid, and genuinely charming, set of performances from Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn as fellow cross-country travelers (and Melissa’s parents). Tomer Sisley plays an entirely forgettable Mexican drug lord, and his scenes, which also include hulking henchman One-Eye (Matthew Willig), are pretty bland – serving little purpose but to add a sense of menace to the otherwise light-hearted proceedings.
Even though many of the characters fall back on standard tropes, their interactions – especially navigating the gray area between fake family and actual family- make for some funny (and even heartwarming) setups. It’d be a stretch to celebrate We’re the Millers for nuanced character drama, and several dramatic scenes fall flat (uninventive compared to the raunchy jokes), but there is enough subtlety to the unfolding family dynamic to sell viewers on the developing bonds between characters. At times the film and cast try a bit too hard to be sentimental, but overall, laughs significantly outnumber melodrama.
We’re the Millers is exactly what moviegoers should expect based on the pairing of drugs and family in the initial premise. Anyone that isn’t onboard with either aspect – hoping for an over-the-top stoner comedy or a thoughtful dramedy that explores the challenges of parenthood (and adolescence) – may find Thurber’s film doesn’t quite satisfy either extreme. Still, a strong cast manages to elevate any stale character archetypes and familiar story lines for an enjoyable (albeit not groundbreaking) misadventure. It’s not the funniest or most thoughtful comedy, but We’re the Millers strikes a fresh middle ground that should provide viewers with a number of memorable scenes – both humorous and oddly sweet.
If you’re still on the fence about We’re the Millers, check out the trailer below:
We’re the Millers runs 110 minutes and is Rated R for crude sexual content, pervasive language, drug material and brief graphic nudity. Now playing in theaters.
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