I remember early on in the year, trailers for We’re the Millers played before almost every screening I attended, and I always looked forward to hearing Billy Squier’s single “The Stroke” (or, rather, Mickey Avalon sampling the song) raging out through the theater speakers. Yes, I’m old enough to remember that as a hit for Mr. Squier, and I’m also old enough to know exactly how We’re the Millers is going to play out, having seen several movies like it. However, no matter how rote the screenplay might get, there are quite a few surprises and a lot of hearty laughs that the trailer didn’t betray.
Dodgeball director Rawson Marshall Thurber sets his film apart from the usual Frat Pack types of movies by not wallowing in awkward tension; instead, he likes to go straight up, deliver the funny, and then get back to business, which is what I appreciate about We’re the Millers. He doesn’t let scenes go on longer than they should, opting to move the story forward in order to keep the laughs coming. The comedy hits a lot more than it misses, thanks to the stellar cast Thurber has assembled. NBC alumni Jennifer Aniston and Jason Sudeikis (of “Friends” and “Saturday Night Live,” respectively) anchor this hilarious tale of drug smuggling and family bonds.
When low-level drug dealer David Clark (Sudeikis) gets robbed of his savings and his dope, his supplier Brad Gurdlinger (Ed Helms) offers him a way out: cross the border into Mexico, pick up a “smidge and a half” of marijuana for him in an RV, and bring it back over the border, whereupon David would receive $100,000. Not really having any choice in the matter, David hires stripper Rose (Aniston), street rat Casey (Emma Roberts), and virginal nerd Kenny (Will Poulter) to pose as his family. His rationale? One man crossing the border in an RV is an instant red flag; a family crossing the border wouldn’t get as much of a hassle, thus making it easier to slip past the border guards.
So begins a Farrelly Brothers-esque laugh-riot, complete with awkward eroticism, testicle shots, and all the hallmark staples of a late-90s gross-out comedy. Also inherent in those comedies was a bunch of heart and great intentions, which We’re the Millers has in spades. It’s a very sweet, unassuming comedy that doesn’t mind spending time with its characters, investing in them and making you root for them on their way toward the inevitable climax. Quite honestly, this film reminded me a lot of a forgotten Disney film from 1980 called The Last Flight of Noah’s Ark, which featured a very similar storyline – a man gets hired to transport certain items and winds up with an ersatz family on board. But make no mistake – We’re the Millers is no Disney movie. There are hilarious sexual situations, insults, and plenty of four-letter words getting flung around.
We’re the Millers lives and dies by its two leads, Aniston and Sudeikis. Both are no strangers to comedy, and they use all of their skills to produce large laughs and sweet moments between themselves. Whether it’s sniping at each other at their apartment building’s mailboxes or washing dishes in the RV, these two develop a thick rapport that makes the film wonderfully enjoyable. Likewise, as the two “kids,” Roberts and Poulter keep up ably with their elder counterparts. Casey is a streetwise kid who starts to enjoy the “family life” this weird vacation has brought her; Roberts plays her with a toughness that overlays a slight vulnerability, and it’s one of the the film’s strongest points. And regarding Poulter’s portrayal of the nerdy kid who talks too much – what’s not to love about a guy who knows the entirety of Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopes’ rap verse in TLC’s “Waterfalls”? Poulter is perfect in this role; his face and his mannerisms match his character so well that I can’t think of another person who could fill it as deftly as he has.
Even though the ending is kind of trite and predictable, We’re the Millers is easily one of the best comedies in the last ten years. It doesn’t mind getting dirty, but it doesn’t mind wearing its heart on its sleeve, either. Regarding destinations, a wise man once said, “How you get there is the worthier part.”* No matter where our characters end up, it’s the journey they take together that shows off their personalities. It’s during these scenes that We’re the Millers absolutely shines, and there are quite a few of them. Oh, and yeah – we won’t mention the extravagant striptease in the late half of the movie… we’ll just leave that to you to discover for yourself.
* – Shepherd Book, “Firefly”