Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Stars: Ed Helms, Emma Roberts, Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Kathryn Hahn, Ken Marino, Luis Guzman, Molly Quinn, Nick Offerman, Thomas Lennon, Will Poulter
Released: 23rd August 2013 (UK)
I love August comedy releases. Though this spot is usually reserved for a Will Ferrell comedy every other year and thus may be the reason it holds a special place in my heart, We’re the Millers does a fine enough job of filling that void until Ferrell unleashes his massive sequel he’s saved for Christmas this year. While this has been a particularly stale year for American comedy, not to mention this summer, with the most memorable thing to come out so far being the very meta, very elaborate inside joke we all felt a part of that was This is the End. What was unfortunate about that film was that it didn’t leave the big cultural impression I expected it to, or hasn’t immediately anyway. It may pick up steam once it arrives on Blu-Ray and DVD as it will no doubt become my default funny flick to toss in when I’m bored, but as for We’re the Millers I was hoping for a little something more, something lasting from the summers final funny effort. Director Rawson Marshall Thurber hasn’t made a feature film in five years and that one, titled The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, didn’t exactly do much (I’d never even heard of it). Before that, his last film was 2004’s Dodgeball. Now, I loved Dodgeball as it came during that sweep of a summer that also includedAnchorman and was preceded by Starsky & Hutch in March. It was a consistent set of comedy monopolized by the likes of Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, and Ferrell. It is clear those days are long gone now as not even a Wilson/Vaughn reunion flick garners much excitement, but Thurber is at least intent on trying to keep that type of comedy intact and continuing the tone by any means possible. For, if nothing else, what I took away from We’re the Millers was that initially underrated feeling that I will come to love in the long run. I know there are jokes I missed, inflections on certain lines I will laugh at more when I hear them again, and certainly something more to the characters of David and Kenny that I’ll end up feeling more akin to and as a result laugh at their jokes even more. It is a comedy that, while funny enough on first viewing, will undoubtedly grow on me as time goes by. That may not be the best compliment to pay a film right out the gate, but as for now that is the biggest highlight of this high concept comedy.
The worst thing about the film is that it truly lives up to the mantra that we see the funniest parts are in the previews. The trailer for the film does indeed set the film up well and gives us a sense of the raunch and conflict the movie will deal with and how, but in the process if it doesn’t give away every gag or quip that is memorable, it at least showed us the set-up. I was sincerely hopeful they might have used different takes, different improvised lines in the final cut of the film rather than the same ones in the trailer, but we are stuck with a limited amount of funny here and it is restrained to the over-abundance of material we were delivered in the trailers. Now SNL alumni Jason Sudeikis plays David Clark, a small scale drug dealer who lives in an apartment building with a nerd of a teenager whose mom doesn’t care enough to check on him after being gone a week and a down on her luck stripper who David may or may not secretly have a thing for. Things are all well and good with no responsibilities for David to uphold until one night when Kenny (Will Poulter), the geek, intervenes in a fight between a few local punks and a homeless punk rocker who stays outside their building. As Kenny stands no chance of scaring off the thugs pining for Casey’s (Emma Roberts) iPhone David is forced to step in, they discover he’s a dealer due to Kenny’s big mouth and he is robbed of his stash and all of his cash. This doesn’t sit well with David’s supplier, Brad Gurdlinger (Ed Helms), who gives David no choice but to cross into Mexico and bring back a shipment of pot if he wants to repay his debt and remain alive. David is of course opposed to the idea and has no idea how he is going to crossover from dealer to smuggler, but as you’ve seen in the trailer hits upon the brilliant idea of creating a cover with a wholesome, unsuspecting family that doesn’t stand a chance of being investigated at the border. Rounding up Kenny, Casey, and stripper Rose (Jennifer Aniston) to be his wife and two kids David has his cover and the gang is ready to hit the open road.
Not to spoil anything, but while the expected crux of the plot is not what gives our players the most trouble along their way, but more it is the dynamics between them and the people they encounter throughout their trip. That and the fact Gurdlinger proves correct pretty much any assumption you might make about a major drug dealer. All of this to say that while the interesting and inherently funny plot the film has going for it is a plus what the film really comes down to is caring about its characters and developing who they are and what their arc is going to be through the course of the film. Naturally the main focus here is our sort of anti-hero David. As clearly stated in a nice cameo by Thomas Lennon at the beginning of the film, while David has no responsibilities and no one to tie him down he also has no one who cares about him, no children to leave a legacy with or anything worth making memories over besides the fantasies he likely comes up with while waiting for the next buyer to show up. Even in this all he does is hand over a dime bag and have nothing resembling human contact to stimulate anything even remotely close to emotions. Presumably, the journey with his fake family will help him come to realize what he’s missing out on and all of that junk, and as it does we are satisfied but somewhat let down the film resolves from extreme raunchiness to overly sweet sentimentality. And while some have plagued Sudeikis as a one note not-so-funny guy he at least plays to his strengths here and turns his Ivy League looks into the butt of the joke. His timing and delivery are contagious as well as he gives David an attitude that is hard to redeem, tough to forgive, but ultimately succumbs to the unsuspecting style of the life he was trying so hard to avoid. His pairing with Aniston isn’t uninspired either as they’re clashing personas give way to a collection of funny moments that while I may not be able to recall specific examples now, certainly had me smiling throughout the film. Aniston has always been comfortable playing second tier to a leading funnyman (Bruce Almighty, Along Came Polly, The Break-Up, Marley & Me, The Switch, Just Go With It, Wanderlust; recognize a pattern?) and she does much the same here while essentially including a few of the tricks she picked up from playing her Horrible Bosses character. It hasn’t become stale yet to see the sweet Aniston be raunchy and thankfully the movie doesn’t rely on the idea of her being a stripper too much, despite what the trailers would lead you to believe.
The real winner here will be Poulter though. I only recognized him due to the fact he gave a standout performance in the otherwise flat Chronicles of Narnia film The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, but it was evident from the first time he let his inner-TLC flow that the kid was going to be a hit and that We’re the Millers might just do for him what Superbad did for Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Given that this film isn’t as good as Superbadthough it is hard to tell if it will have the lasting effects that gave everyone in that movie a serious career boost. Emma Roberts is fine enough, but she is given the least to work with and her most interesting development comes when she goes after an idiotic carnival worker who refers to himself as Scotty P. Both Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn get better material to work with than Roberts as they hilariously breathe life into what might have essentially been two walking stereotypes. As the straight-laced, wholesome Fitzgerald family, both Offerman and Hahn along with their daughter Melissa (Molly Quinn) seem to be improvising most of their scenes and selling it to the fullest. They get more screen time than I initially expected, but they were a welcome diversion from those expectations giving our titular Millers a glimpse into the type of bond that families share while not always adhering to the strict guidelines that most people assume the picture perfect, white picket fence clans follow. There is a kind of unspoken law of what is expected to be considered part of the respectable class, but if We’re the Millers is trying to do anything other than deliver a few laughs it is making a point there is more to the middle class American dream illusion than people have come to perceive it as. It is an interesting idea, but the film ultimately doesn’t delve much into it as it’s more hinted at than anything else. Thurber’s approach is a rather conventional one and doesn’t give the film a style that elicits a certain lifestyle or time period or even any details that might hint at something more than what we see on the surface and you could maybe take that as his filmmaking preference or dig in and say it was a chosen style to represent the type of family the Millers were supposed to be, but as the fact remains the final product is nothing particularly groundbreaking and some of the bigger laughs come from the gag reel during the credits I’ll take the film at face value and declare it nothing more than a pleasant diversion you will forget about until you see it on home video shelves in three months.
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