Friday, 30 August 2013

We're the Millers (2013)

We’re the Millers (2013)
Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber; Starring Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Will Poulter

Rating: 3/5

The latest in Hollywood comedic fare is We’re the Millers, a ribald road movie that sees a small time drug dealer called David (Jason Sudeikis) forced into a high risk venture moving a massive shipment of marijuana across the border from Mexico. The target for jokes is the all-American family, and the picket fenced ideal of the American dream. After witnessing a “real life Ned Flanders” in a giant RV get moved on by the cops with no questions asked, David gets the idea to assemble a phony family as his cover.

He spends the first part of the film assembling his rag tag group of misfits. David’s well meaning but naive neighbour Kenny (Will Poulter) is with him from the beginning; down-on-her-luck stripper Rose (Jennifer Aniston) has been fired from her job, and evicted from her apartment; and finally young runaway Casey (Emma Roberts) is coerced by room, board and a $1000 pay check. What follows is a zany trip across Mexico and the American South West (surely the greatest setting for a road trip, with the desert vistas a welcome backdrop), in an RV packed to the gills with “enough weed to kill Willie Nelson”.

The sleazy humour could put off the easily offended, but much of the absurdity comes from this kind of language and subject matter spewing from the mouths of a supposedly average nuclear family, the members of which are of course anything but. It is entertaining to see the four conflicting personalities thrown together, and their natural reactions resulting in an extremely dysfunctional, but perfectly believable family unit. None of them have a family of their own, and they slowly come to embrace a situation that only entered for profit.

The film’s greatest strength is its cast; they excel, and most of the jokes hit home. I’ve never seen Jason Sudeikis in a film before, yet he seems surprisingly familiar. He’s reminiscent of an older Ryan Reynolds or a younger Will Ferrell, and probably ranks somewhere in between in terms of comic ability, too. Though a drug dealer, he presents a relatable everyman, a slacker in his late thirties whose life is starting to get away from him. Jennifer Aniston shows us that she’s still got it as stripper Rose, and she’s not a bad comic actor, either. Aniston has split her career between generic “rom coms” and straighter comedy drama. The latter have been significantly better received. She appeared with Sudeikis in Horrible Bosses (2011), which was a success.

English actor Will Poulter, who showed up a couple of years ago in Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010) provides the most sympathetic character, the lovably awkward Kenny, who has been abandoned by everybody, including his own mother. He latches onto David, the closest thing he has to a cool older brother (he’s really not much of a father) and provides the perfect foil for the other characters. Emma Roberts has the least developed character, and is swiftly shot down when trying to relay her sob story, so we never find anything out about her background. Her best scene is the rebellious romance with dim witted carnival slacker Scotty P, who ends every sentence with “You know what I’m saying?” (Well, I’m awake and I speak English, so yeah, I know what you’re saying).

An impressive array of extras round out the piece nicely: a pair of Mexican drug lords (Tomer Sisley & Matt Willig) join in the pursuit of the “family”, and The Hangover’s Ed Helms is entertaining as David’s eccentric supplier, an unrepentant bastard who runs his business as a corporate CEO, complete with extravagant office and smiling receptionist. The role is evocative of Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder (2008). Lastly Nick Offerman appears as the patriarch of a real RV tripping family, who start off by delaying the trip home with their friendliness, but are later relied on to save the “Millers’” bacon.

The film continues that rich tradition of 21st century Hollywood comedies. If it were ten years ago, this film could have starred Vince Vaughn or Owen Wilson. Maybe the lead protagonist has to save their gym, meet some parents, or win a big sports competition. There’s always that big conflict right before the third act, where things reach their lowest point since the ultimatum that started this chain of events. How could they give up now? How could that guy be such a self-centred jerk? We’re the Millers has such an occurrence, and you can see it coming a mile off over the Arizona horizon.

Some of these films are forgotten within a few years; others become surprise classics and enter into pop culture’s collective consciousness. The film was written by the team behind the surprisingly well crafted Hot Tub Time Machine (2010), and directed by the incredibly named Rawson Marshall Thurber, who gave us Dodgeball (2004), ending up firmly in the latter category. Yet his last film, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (2008) was a dull flop. Maybe he should stick to comedy. His directing style is nonetheless competent, and again, reminiscent of other leaders in the genre, such as Todd Phillips, Judd Apatow or the Farrelly brothers. It’s also slightly longer than the average 90 minutes for such a film (clocking in at 110 minutes), but doesn’t suffer from any fatigue. I can’t tell where We’re the Millers will end up, but for now it’s good for raising a chuckle on a summer afternoon.

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