These days, it’s interesting and unusual to find a movie that defies expectations. When this happens, most of the time it’s the result of creative marketing trying too hard to make a film into something it’s not. But occasionally a script and director will take a seemingly-fixed premise in a different direction. Such is the case with We’re the Millers, which has the setup and intention of a raunch-fest but instead becomes a light, even endearing comedy. Depending on your expectations, that will please some and upset others.
Dave Clark (Jason Sudeikis) is a small-time pot dealer. He’s not a bad guy, really – he won’t deal to kids, and he’s got an air of nobility under his gruff, slacker exterior. It ends up getting him in trouble when he tries to rescue his guileless teenage neighbour Kenny (Will Poulter) from some muggers, and instead gets robbed himself. Now on the hook for unpaid debts to his loony supplier (Ed Helms), Dave’s given the job of smuggling marijuana across the border from Mexico, a seemingly difficult task until he realizes that travelling families are scrutinized less intensely by border patrols.
Enlisting Kenny, his stripper neighbour Rose (Jennifer Aniston), and street kid Casey (Emma Roberts), Dave bundles them all into a giant RV to pickup the drugs and return them to the States. But there’s a lot more going on than anyone realizes, and the trip back will be anything but smooth, especially when the "Millers" have to seek help from another road-tripping family (Nick Offerman, Kathryn Hahn, Molly Quinn).
All the ingredients are here for a wild ride, and to be sure, We’re the Millers has its share of gross-outs and 14A-rated sexual shenanigans. But what starts out as an anti-family comedy eventually turns into something approaching the National Lampoon’s Vacation franchise. Dave et al are hardly the Griswolds, but a certain sweetness asserts itself – these are all people in need of human contact, and given the chance, they bond as their own kind of family.
It won’t work for everyone, especially those expecting something closer to The Hangover. Director Rawson Marshall Thurber (best known for Dodgeball) works a bit too hard to convince us these characters are likeable. Some of the "Where do you think you’re going, young lady?" comedy is a little too on-the-nose to be very funny, and there’s a full-on take to the camera by Sudeikis in a crucial scene that destroys the fourth wall and our involvement. But there are a few marquee moments, mostly involving various humiliations heaped on poor Kenny, that will probably be what this film is remembered for.
Aniston’s recent film choices seem to be aimed at shaking up her image, but while she does provide a bit of steam as exotic dancer Rose, her strengths in playing the good-girl-next-door are clearly why she’s here. Sudeikis is a good leading man, balancing Dave’s self-interest against an inner nice streak. Everyone else does okay, fixed into the usual roles they’re known for, especially Offerman and Hahn as a firmly middle-class couple looking to spice things up in their relationship.
In the end, We’re the Millers has a tough job finding an audience. It’s not crazy enough to fully satisfy the Midnight Madness crowd, and those looking for light comedy may be put off by just the premise. But I think everyone else will find it a fairly enjoyable night out.
Tags: movie review