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Review: We’re the Millers (2013)

We’re the Millers (2013)

Directed by: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Premise: A low level drug dealer (Jason Sudeikis) has to smuggle a massive load of marijuana across the U.S.-Mexico border. He recruits a stripper (Jennifer Aniston), a teenage runaway (Emma Roberts), and a naïve young man (Will Poulter) to pose as his family in order to get the drugs past border agents.

What Works: We’re the Millers benefits from a solid central cast. Jason Sudeikis is cast in the lead role and he is more successful as a comic actor and a leading man in this film than he has been in other movies because he downplays the snarkiness and plays the role as a much more straightforward and accessible character. Sarcasm is fine in movies but it is much more fitting for supporting or sidekick characters. Lead roles generally do not benefit from sarcasm because it makes them appear unvested in the drama of the story. In We’re the Millers Sudeikis is allowed a few witty lines but they are used sparingly and the story consistently places his character in a tenuous position that creates empathy. Jennifer Aniston is cast as a stripper posing as a housewife and the script and the actress allow the character a lot of intelligence. It would be quite simple to make her an airhead but Aniston’s character comes across as a full-fledged person. Emma Roberts and Will Poulter round out the main cast as a runaway teen and an innocent but good hearted young man. Roberts’s role is empty but she makes a lot of subtle, nonverbal contributions in her performance and Poulter shows a comic fearlessness, as he is often willing to make himself look ridiculous. Despite some considerable faults, We’re the Millers does manage to be funny. It includes a variety of humor including one-liners, physical comedy, and gross out gags and although the jokes are never sidesplitting they do come at a steady pace.

What Doesn’t: We’re the Millers is funny but it’s never as funny as it should be. This film has some elements in it that are certainly within the province of an R-rating but as a whole We’re the Millers is not edgy enough. It is a compromised movie that frequently plays like a television sitcom with harsh language. That compromised quality is apparent in the main cast. We’re the Millers is built around the gimmick of a group of social reprobates pretending to be a wholesome American family. The problem is that the lead actors are all mainstream players who have inoffensive public personas and the filmmakers don’t even try to set them up as the kind of edgy or trashy characters that are required to make the conceit of the movie work. This is most obvious in the stripper played by Jennifer Aniston. The part calls for Aniston to curse and dance provocatively but she is still playing her role from the television show Friends (as she has in most subsequent movie and television roles) and her public image as the good girl next door is ultimately protected and preserved as she plays a stripper who somehow never gets naked. That lack of edge is apparent in the rest of the movie. Every opportunity to make this film truly subversive or risqué is steamrolled into something much more banal. What should be a very naughty adventure is barely competitive with other comedies like The Hangover, Seven Psychopaths, and Bridesmaids.

Bottom Line: Most of the comedies released in 2013 range between mediocre (The Hangover Part III) and downright awful (The Big Wedding). We’re the Millers is as good of a comedy as we’re likely to see this year which more an indictment of the genre than a praise of this film. We’re the Millers is passably funny but it is not nearly as wicked as it ought to be. 

Episode: #452 (August 18, 2013)