Review: We’re the Millers
Rawson Marshall Thurber's comedy We're the Millers taps into the well-worn romcom trope that the clothes make the man. To elaborate: If two people merely pretend to be lovers, they will eventually become lovers. If they have to pretend to be married, then they will end up marrying. If they have to affect the idiosyncrasies of a typical bland American family, then they will happily mutate into the very same.
The Proposal featured Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds as two people who hated one another who had to pretend to be affianced in order to fool a snippy INS agent. At the end of the film, playing the part eventually leaked into their real lives, and they did fall in love. Something similar happened in Just Go With It, wherein Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston had to pretend to be a married couple to fool Brooklyn Decker. They fall in love. In the Katherine Heigl movie Life as We Know It, she and not-very-good-friend Josh Duhamel had a friend's baby thrust upon them, and playing the family had them falling in love and actually eventually being a family.
I suppose the message in films like this is that abstract love is so strong, and familial love so overwhelmingly powerful, that the mere act of playacting can induce the real thing. A cynical interpretation of the trope would be to imply that you have no choice in the matter, and love will overwhelm you, even when you don't feel it. Love and family are insidious clouds of free-floating emotion that drift through the world, waiting for the right signs to invade. You are not falling in love. Love is falling into you.
Occasionally, the opposite is depicted; in an obscure German thriller called Das Experiment, random free citizens are dressed as either prisoners or prison guards. That each group begins to actually behave like the group they're dressed as reveals the transient nature of our personal identities. But usually it's love that overwhelms us. That can be a good thought, but it's also a boring and trite screenplay cliché that's rarely fun to watch.
We're the Millers depicts a group of criminals and misfits who must pose as a boring all-American family (complete with an RV) as a cover identity so that they may smuggle copious amounts of marijuana over the border from Mexico into the U.S. As the trip progresses, this ersatz family finds that they are actually becoming fond of one another, falling in love, and essentially behaving like a real family would. You can pepper the film with all the naughty jokes, cuss words, bicuriousity, criminality, violence, and Jennifer-Aniston-in-her-underwear scenes as you like, We're the Millers is still a pretty bland experience.
Jason Sudeikis plays a 40-year-old weed dealer named Dave living in Denver who is robbed one night and left with no money and no weed. To please his supplier (Ed Helms) he is asked to smuggle weed from Mexico back into the U.S. He realizes that he looks too much like a drug dealer, and hires a “family” as cover. His wife will be played by a local stripper named Rose (Aniston), his daughter will be a runaway named Casey (Emma Roberts), and his son will be an abandoned 18-year-old neighbor named Kenny (Will Poulter). They act like a family named Miller; they become a family named Miller. Wacky roadtrip ensues.
They meet a randy gay cop (Luis Guzman), a randy Midwestern couple (Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn), a testicle-biting spider, a pair of evil Mexican criminals (Matthew Willig and Tomer Sisley), and a brick-headed tattooed roadie type (Mark L. Young, the funniest actor in the film). I don't want to talk about how boring most of these characters are, or how trite their jokey cliched what-a-coincidence dialogue is.
Some of the jokes will make you giggle, some will make you smirk in distracted amusement, but most of them you'll just have to wait through; there's a scene wherein Sudeikis and Aniston must seduce another couple to keep their cover story afloat (don't ask), and it seems to go on forever. It's not funny or titillating, and only pads out the already too-long 110 minute running time. Aniston, perhaps to show off that she's still in amazing shape, takes her clothes off in one scene, and that part is actually a little bit titillating. When the teary emotional climax rolls around, you'll feel nothing. Or you'll feel annoyance. The film-end blooper reel, you may find, will be the most lively and funny part of the movie, implying that these actors were capable of bringing so much more to the proceedings than was given them.
There were fits of life bubbling up underneath We're the Millers, kicking around, wanting to get out. The screenplay had a few fleeting moments of genuinely subversive humor (it's about drugs, and has a nice scene of implied incest), and you longed for the film to really skew into something dangerous or sleazy. But, overall, We're the Millers is bright and clean and safe (despite its R rating) and ultimately has no teeth whatsoever. It's a bland and expected comedy wearing the skin of something dark and naughty.
Witney Seibold is a featured contributor on the CraveOnline Film Channel, co-host of The B-Movies Podcast and co-star of The Trailer Hitch. You can read his weekly articles B-Movies Extended, Free Film School and The Series Project, and follow him on “Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind. If you want to buy him a gift (and I know you do), you can visit his Amazon Wish List.