As a genre, the comedy road trip movie is not often the site of great originality. Failing inspiration, competency is the least required, and We’re The Millers is a fine example of how low ambition can reap modest rewards – an amusing and raunchy but ultimately predictable and unoriginal comedy.
Jason Sudeikis, a man many will have heard of but few would be able to pick out from a lineup, plays David, a lifelong small-time pot dealer, in the employ of the mega-rich Brad Gurlinger, played with gusto by Ed Helms. Helms is noteworthy if only for the obvious relish he takes in a character other than the boring and one-note Stewart, from the latter films of the Hangover trilogy. When David is robbed of cash and stash, he is shanghaied by Gurlinger into becoming an international drug mule to pay of his debt. Terrified by the prospect of border control, David recruits three of his acquaintances to form a fake family, the Millers, to become more believable. Their misadventure as they attempt to transport what turns out to be tonnes of marijuana into the US comprise the film’s plot.
The three recruited characters are Rose, a depressed stripper played by Jennifer Aniston, Casey, a runaway homeless teenager played by Emma Roberts, and young Brit Will Poulter as Kenny, an abandoned, earnest and naïve young man who lives in David’s building. They are variously recruited through obligation, bribery and guilting, and as a foursome it is their interactions which provide the bulk of the film’s laughs. Rose and David have taut and passive aggressive exchanges, with an unsurprising slice of sexual tension dashed in for good measure, and Casey and Kenny are fairly simple characters – the rebel and the good-natured idiot respectively. As a foursome, they are fun and their banter is indeed amusing fairly consistently, but there are a number of problems which drag the film down.
For one, objectification of Aniston becomes more and more problematic as the film goes on; while, given she plays a stripper, it is to be expected that Jen might get some of her kit off briefly, when the film features her dancing for the third time towards the end, in white underwear made wet to become see-through, the focus of the movie seems to be slipping dangerously and very unnecessarily. The futile nods towards her dislike of her job (she is accompanying Sudeikis specifically to make up for lost money after quitting to avoid forced prostitution, another misjudged plot point treated as a joke by the film) might have been convincing if she were not to dance without any evidence of upset in this manner. When Sudeikis informs Kenny to “have some respect” for Rose, it seems to an extent a contradiction of the film’s own message.
The predictability of the film is its other main problem, but it is not one which becomes crippling – the purple language and flippancy of the characters towards the various happy coincidences and serendipities which punctuate the final act of the film make up for the film’s boring plotting. We’re The Millers is a conservative and unsurprising movie, but this does not make it a bad one – it is indeed competent and fairly funny.