With Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis, Emma Roberts, Will Poulter, Ed Helms. Written by Bob Fisher & Steve Faber and Sean Anders & John Morris. Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber. Rated R for crude sexual content, pervasive language, drug material and brief graphic nudity. 110 minutes.
This has not been a great year for film comedy, regardless of what the box office says: “Identity Thief,” “The Hangover, Part III,” “The Heat,” “Grown Ups 2.” They may have made money, but these were films made by and for morons who confuse abuse and humiliation with humor. WE’RE THE MILLERS sets down that same low comedy road but then something odd happens: it’s actually funny.
Key to the film working and us buying its ridiculous premise is that we have to like the characters. Marginal as they all are, the seeds of their redemption are planted early. David Clark (Jason Sudeikis) is a low-level drug dealer who won’t sell to kids and seems to focus on marijuana. When his stash and cash are ripped off he is heavily in debt to an obscenely wealthy local kingpin with the improbable name of Brad Gurdlinger (Ed Helms). Brad is a smooth-talking lowlife who has a killer whale for a pet and offers David a deal: bring a shipment of marijuana across the border from Mexico and his debt is clear.
This is out of David’s league and he realizes that a lone man looking as he does will be easily spotted at the border. So he comes up with the perfect disguise: he will travel in a camper with a fake “family” so that they will look like boring American tourists and not international drug smugglers. The family consists of: Rose (Jennifer Aniston) who works as a stripper; Casey (Emma Roberts) who is a tough and homeless street kid; and Kenny (Will Poulter), a kind-hearted teenager in David’s building who has been forced to live on his own.
The plot consists of their misadventures on the trip to Mexico and back. This includes running into another family of tourists who are as authentically weird and corny as the Millers are not, as well as the rival drug lord that Brad has double-crossed, now putting the Millers in the crossfire. The jokes are all slapstick, sex, and low humor. No one is going to confuse this with a sophisticated comedy of manners. Yet it works because we come to sympathize with the various characters early on and watch as this fake family slowly creates real bonds. It’s a variation of the romantic comedy (which Hollywood seems to have forgotten how to do) in which the lovers start out at odds but learn from each other. One hilariously tasteless scene has Kenny being taught how to kiss by his fake “sister” and “mother.”
By film’s end, this ersatz family has become a real one or, at least, as close as any of them has ever come to experiencing a real family. As various plot points pay off you come to realize that the movie satisfies in a way that so many other recent comedies have not. A loathsome and selfish character isn’t magically transformed into a sympathetic figure in the last half hour. Instead, they’ve been slowly winning us over for the entire movie. “We’re The Millers” won’t be remember as one of the great screen comedies, but in the current drought of such films, it is a most welcome relief.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He teaches at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.