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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
Warner Bros.’ late-summer comedy film We’re the Millers was the highest-grossing film released into theaters in August 2013, a big surprise given the movie lacked an ad campaign, or even a trailer, as late as May of this year. As a bit of counter-programming against late-summer action films like Kick-Ass 2 and Elysium, We’re the Millers has been a rousing success, much like the August comedies of previous years including The 40 Year Old Virgin, Superbad, and The Campaign. While audiences tired of traditional summer spectacle, they clearly craved comedy, and not even poor reviews, a somewhat unknown /unproven lead actor, or a long-forgotten director could keep We’re the Millers from box office success and audience appreciation.
We’re the Millers casts Jason Sudeikis (of Saturday Night Live fame) as pot-dealing everyman David Clark. When his stash of weed and drug money is robbed by neighborhood no-goodniks, David is tasked by drug boss Ed Helms with picking up a rather substantial pot delivery in Mexico and bringing it back home to Colorado. Left with little choice, David says yes to the job, and sets out to create the perfect fake family in order to easily sneak through customs with the drugs, reckoning that an All-American family wouldn’t get a second look from US border patrol. He enlists a washed-up stripper (Jennifer Aniston), a latch-key neighbor boy (Will Poulter), and a no-nonsense street ruffian (Emma Roberts) as his family, promising them money in return for a few days of their time. Of course, hijinks and chaos ensue, and by the end we all learn valuable lessons about drug smuggling as well as family.
The film is directed with a sort of slapstick “everything goes” mentality, which Rawson Marshall Thurber brings relentlessly, much the way he brought to 2004’s Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. There is a definite comic energy in We’re the Millers, and as such the film very rarely lets up or falls flat. Though the jokes don’t always land, the hit to miss ratio is much better than I thought it would be, and the hard-R rating definitely leaves room for a more vulgar level of jokes than I had initially expected. The film has its fair share of mean-spiritedness, which can be overwhelming and get old fast (see: Family Guy with the Meg character) but it almost sort of works here, because the actors are just likable enough to pull it off. The characterization also works well, especially for what is a dumb comedy movie. It’s easy to see that Sudeikis and Aniston have a history in their characters, which gives them more depth than they might have had otherwise.
The movie is decidedly low-brow, however. Be prepared for jokes about testicles, incest, drugs, domestic violence, etc. If you’re looking for a more refined, sophisticated comedy, this isn’t it. Additionally, very few moments in We’re the Millers seem to be all that original. There have been many other road comedies in the past, and this film shares certain elements with all of them. The film ends on a fairly clichéd deus ex machine as well, but that’s to be expected in a typical rote comedy like this. We’re the Millers surprised me with just how funny it is, but it can also be extremely lazy in its writing (but as noted earlier, the busy direction helps with this). Yeah, there are lame gags that miss (and an entire character who would have been better left out of the finished product), but I found myself more often than not laughing at what was onscreen.
The big thing this film has going for it is that its characters just work well together. Sudeikis and Aniston have pretty great chemistry, as noted in the scene where they recount how they met. Emma Roberts is going to be a pretty big star I feel, and Poulter has a future in comedy. The goofy-looking but well-mannered kid he plays was largely an audience favorite as well (I thought he was ok, but the actor is clearly better than the material). The supporting players, particularly Kathryn Hahn and Nick Offerman, are also pretty great (which was honestly to be expected). I don’t think We’re the Millers is a particularly good film, but it was a fairly decent late summer comedy that kept me entertained and made me laugh more than I thought it would.