Movie Review: We're the Millers
By Matthew Huntley
August 13, 2013
When it comes to over-the-top comedies, it’s often their heart that wins us over, despite the absurdity of the material. But in the case of We’re the Millers, its sentimentality actually gets in the way and becomes a distraction. It starts out as a raw and unabashed romp about four ill-suited, miserable individuals who must pretend to be a kind, loving family, and I was hoping the movie’s humor would stem from its fearlessness to be rude, raunchy and distasteful. But eventually it chooses a nicer, more traditional path and settles for recycled jokes and assumes that because most of them are sexual in nature, that’s enough to satiate the audience. It’s not.
Worse still, the movie grows increasingly schmaltzy as it goes along, which was expected, but here it turns cheesy and we see its contrived emotion coming a mile away, leaving little in the way of surprises. It would have been in the movie’s better interest to just be insincere and abandon any kind of romance altogether.
The setup is promising: a low-level drug dealer out of Denver named David Clark (Jason Sudeikis), who’s sidestepped all forms of responsibility his entire adult life, is beaten up and robbed by some local thugs. They steal his inventory and money, which doesn’t sit well with his boss and supplier (Ed Helms), who threatens to waste David unless he goes down to Mexico and smuggles a “smidge and a half” of marijuana across the border into the United States.
David is smart enough to know he can’t sneak that much weed in by himself, not when looks like a single, uncouth white guy, so he comes up with the brilliant idea of creating a fake family and letting them serve as his disguise, because what border police would ever suspect a white-bread, all-American family of being drug smugglers? He offers up the idea to his neighbor Rose (Jennifer Aniston), a down-on-her-luck stripper; his virginal and socially awkward 18-year-old neighbor Kenny (Will Poulter); and a rebellious runaway named Casey (Emma Roberts). Together, they become the Miller family, who pray together, wears khakis and polo shirts, and buy cheesy souvenirs. Their plan: drive across the Mexican border in a luxury motorhome, stuff it full of weed and drive back.
All goes well until a series of misadventures, starting with the motor home breaking down, prevents them from making their delivery. This includes an encounter with an actual all-American family, the Fitzgeralds (Nick Offerman, Kathryn Hahn, Molly Quinn), and the angry head of a Mexican drug cartel (Tomer Sisley). Throughout this whole ordeal, wouldn’t you know, each of the main characters undergoes a transformation and realizes the whole “family thing” isn’t so bad after all and they start to bond. Aww…
We’ve seen high-concept, comedic plots like this before (Adventures in Babysitting and Date Night both come to mind), and I would have been fine with We’re the Millers using its familiar setup as a springboard for original comedy, but the problem is it lacks inspiration and doesn’t generate enough laughs. Even the most outrageous scenes, like a bizarre sexual experience between the Millers and Fitzgeralds, or Rose’s striptease in an industrial warehouse, strike out. Maybe it’s because the movie makes it too easy for us to expect them, and so there’s no spontaneity.
Other notions, like the Fitzgeralds actually believing a block of weed was a baby, just seemed too incredulous and, well, stupid. They placed the movie in Idiot Plot territory, where we can’t believe that anyone, however innocent and unassuming, would falls for such things, even in the context of this fictitious world.
Summing up We’re the Millers is pretty straightforward. It’s a would-be vulgar comedy that simply doesn’t pay off and pads itself with too much trite emotion to come off as funny or believable and abides by a formula that doesn’t put a fresh enough twist on the material to make us think of it as anything other than formulaic. Given the talent in front of and behind the camera (director Rawson Marshall Thurbor previously made the much more amusing Dodgeball), we have the right to expect something more.