Mark Reviews Movies

We're the Millers


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Cast: Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Will Poulter, Emma Roberts, Ed Helms, Nick Offerman, Kathryn Hahn, Molly Quinn, Tomer Sisley, Matthew Willig

MPAA Rating: R (for crude sexual content, pervasive language, drug material and brief graphic nudity)

Running Time: 1:50

Release Date: 8/7/13

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Review by Mark Dujsik | August 7, 2013

We're the Millers is an ensemble comedy in which every character and every actor click into place. The story is nothing more than a family road trip comedy where everyone has their quirks. The dad gets upset over everything. The mom tries to bring everyone together. The kids figure out who they really are, and the people they meet are stranger than they first appear. The only difference is that the family here isn't actually a family but only a cover for "dad" to haul over two tons of marijuana from Mexico to Denver without arousing too much suspicion.

This isn't a spoof or even a satire of family vacation movies, though; it's simply a naughtier rendition of the material, which apparently uses its phony-family premise as an excuse to allow members of a seemingly ordinary American family to say what they really want to say to one another. If that is the case, kudos to screenwriters Bob Fisher, Steve Faber, Sean Anders, and John Morris for opening this film up to Freudian interpretations of the scene in which "dad" tries to convince "mom" and later his "son" to perform a sexual favor on a cop looking for a bribe, and let's not ignore the scene where the "son" goes back and forth between kissing his "sister" and his "mom." Actually, there's nothing Freudian about those scenes; the implications are pretty blatant.

That's why the film works as well as it does. It has some guts to it, even if the more mischievous material here only exists for a misunderstanding to arise or be revealed. As in dire straits as these four are, they still have a little bit of dignity. It's not much, but it is enough for them to stop things from getting too out of hand. It's also, more importantly, not enough for them to avoid getting into such messy situations in the first place. That's about as balanced as characters get here.

The man in charge of the smuggling operation is David (Jason Sudeikis), a pot dealer in Denver who gets on the wrong side of his boss Brad Gurdlinger (Ed Helms, one of the handful of actors who could play a character named "Brad Gurdlinger"). They were friends in college, but Brad has since moved up in the world with the drug trade (He has an orca in the gigantic fish tank in his office—a nice touch of absurdity). David is just a loner about whom nobody would know or care if he disappeared off the face of the earth one day, as another buddy of his from college (Thomas Lennon) puts it near the start of the film. He means it as a compliment, but David has been realizing something is missing from his life.

He's tried flirting with Rose (Jennifer Aniston), who works as a stripper (which provides a striptease-as-distraction moment that's equal parts sexy and funny) and lives in his building. She hates him, and he hates her for hating him. Also living in the apartment building is an 18-year-old kid—which would seem an oxymoron unless you realize he looks to be about 15—named Kenny (Will Poulter), whose mother went out for a drink about two weeks ago. Kenny tries to stop a runaway teenage girl named Casey (Emma Roberts) from being mugged, and David tries to stop the muggers from beating the helpless boy senseless.

Kenny lets David's occupation slip, and soon he's without his product or the money he owes Brad. Brad offers David the job in Mexico for a courier fee and the privilege of not being murdered. David comes up with the plan to hire a fake family after seeing how kindly an obnoxiously wholesome family of tourists is treated.

If one stops to think about it for a moment, there's something depressing about these characters, who have little for which to live and are barely scraping by in their lives. Rose is evicted from her apartment. Kenny and Casey are essentially orphans. David is still acting like he's in college and has no real ambitions for anything more.

Desperate people like the ones here are either fit for tragedy or comedy. The only difference—at least in this case—is whether or not two tons of an illegal narcotic stuffed into every possible opening of a recreational vehicle and a ruthless drug lord (Tomer Sisley) who actually should have the marijuana are involved.

The family puts on a good show when they need to, such as when they're crossing the border or trying to blend in with another vacationing family with secrets both potentially damaging and sexually twisted in a really milquetoast sort of way (Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn play the parents; Molly Quinn plays the daughter that makes Kenny think he needs to learn how to kiss). Really, though, they can't stand each other (except for Kenny, who's sweet as can be), and the repression of those feelings provides plenty of comic tension with which the actors can toy.

They bicker like any normal family but are far more brutally honest in their criticisms, not having to be mindful of the filter that normal families have out of love. In a way, then, the inevitable scenes in We're the Millers in which the four actually begin to look out for each other (David has a talk about girls with Kenny, and the "parents" worry when Casey is out with loser who works at a carnival) work, too. Take the scene in which David is convinced to tell the story of how he met his "wife." He's honest about it; it's not a story of love but of almost immediate disdain. They may be miserable, but there's something authentic (and funny) about them ultimately choosing to be miserable with each other.

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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