There’s something satisfying about films that are comfortable with what they are. Take We’re the Millers, a humble comedy that churns out jokes at a steady pace and gets a lot of mileage out of its four leads. Even if you don’t revisit, it won’t be a wasted two hours. Despite the movie’s purposely generic title and promotional material, I found it surprisingly funny, the humor crude and lewd on occasion but also charmingly dopey and awkward. It has a roundabout way of preaching a certain kind of family values without resorting to sentimentality.
Jason Sudeikis plays David, a man who’s reached his thirties and achieved his life goals of dealing weed and getting high everyday. Things take a turn for the worse, however, when he finds out that he owes his smarmy, shark collecting supplier (Ed Helms) loads of money. The only way to get out of this is by smuggling an even bigger load of marijuana from Mexico, and the only way to do that is to fool border control into thinking that David is a clean-cut family man just taking the wife and kids on a little vacay. He recruits his high schooler neighbor, Kenny (Will Poulter), a teenage runaway, Casey (Emma Roberts), and a jaded stripper, Rose (Jennifer Aniston), to pose with him as the all-American Miller family.
Most of the action happens while this dysfunctional quartet are on the road in their giant Winnebago. There are small, immediate goals – picking up several tons of drugs, attending to poisonous spider bites in sensitive parts, evading a murderous drug lord – that push the story along its linear plotline. Things get bumpier when they meet the genial but square Fitzgerald family and discover that the dad (Nick Offerman) is a DEA agent. The incremental nature of their journey allows the relationships to build and transform these four lost souls into one eccentric family unit though. David finds his parental instincts kicking in in spite of his selfishness. Rose, on the other hand, learns that she has a motherly side that isn’t put to use in her day, rather night, job.
Credit goes to the casting, which keeps this crazy caravan in one solid piece. Each actor stands out in his or her own way without stealing the spotlight from anyone else. Sudeikis keeps everything grounded, as a good father should, while Aniston seems more comfortable in these ensemble films when she doesn’t have to carry the full emotional weight. She gets to retreat into her character and make smaller moments go further, like when Rose yells at Casey for staying out late with a shady carnival worker and not having the good sense to ring or text. Roberts reciprocates; she’s fine as a sulky teen but she also shows Casey as a sulky teen in need of parents who care. If I had to pick a star though, my vote would go to Poulter, a young British actor who should be on everybody’s radar. As David’s innocent, gangly, wide-eyed neighbor, Kenny could easily be the butt of the film’s jokes. Instead, Poulter makes the most out of his character’s naiveté and turns him into the most endearing member of the family, the only one who doesn’t sign on with a head full of cynicism. Even when he’s making out with his mother or sister or rapping wholeheartedly to “Waterfalls,” we’re definitely not laughing at him.
Prod: Chris Bender, Vincent Newman, Tucker Tooley, Happy Walters
Dir: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Writer: Bob Fisher, Steve Faber, Sean Anders, John Morris
Cast: Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Emma Roberts, Will Poulter, Ed Helms, Nick Offerman, Kathryn Hahn, Molly Quinn, Tomer Sisley, Matthew Willig, Luis Guzmán, Thomas Lennon
Time: 110 min
Country: United States