The most effective comedies tend to be the ones you swear you’ve seen before yet you can’t name any other just like it. “We’re the Millers” has lots of familiar pieces but puts them together in a new-ish package. Often funny, sometimes hilarious and always amusing, “Millers” doesn’t raise the bar for R-rated comedy, but it works the formula in all the right ways.
The movie plays like a Farrelly brothers comedy, only it doesn’t live and die by its jokes. There are some situational jokes involving awkward sexual situations, nudity and comedic violence, but what’s more funny is the relationship dynamic between this “family.”
Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Will Poulter and Emma Roberts are the Millers, as well as a pot dealer, stripper, awkward loner and homeless runaway, respectively. After David (Sudeikis) gets rolled by some thugs, he owes his old college friend and wealthy employer, Brad (Helms), a ton of money. He can square up with Brad, but only if he goes into Mexico and smuggles in a shipment of pot for him. To do so inconspicuously, David recruits a “family” of equally desperate individuals and they set out for a Fourth of July “RV trip” in Mexico. Of course what starts easy ends up going south (no pun intended) in a hurry.
These four actors are a pretty unusual group to begin with, though Aniston and Sudeikis both starred in “Horrible Bosses.” Considering they all play degenerates of a sort who don’t actually like each other, it makes their whole charade quite entertaining. The script could’ve played this premise out in really predictable fashion by sticking to typical family tropes, but Bob Faber and Steve Fisher (“Wedding Crashers”) along with Sean Anders and John Morris (“Hot Tub Time Machine”) take things a step further, crafting a lovable yet totally awful group of misfits who struggle to balance their personal motives with the idea of family spirit.
“Millers” doesn’t completely steer clear of cliché territory and it sometimes plays off of homophobia for a few laughs, but it doesn’t giggle at dirty humor and exploit its R rating in a way that seems fake like so many bad comedies do. The story acknowledges its outlandish premise early on and then just has fun with it, calling upon techniques used in road trip comedies, drug comedies, dysfunctional family comedies and more. Again, it’s the idea of taking old tropes and building them into something more unique.
The actors all really fit their parts. Aniston’s move toward raunchier films still has her playing a type, but even though “Millers” exploits her for her sex appeal, she gets moments of ownership in the script, which doesn’t paint her into a stereotype of a stripper character. Sudeikis does his thing and does it well with a bit more license to utilize his different strengths.
Roberts does a good job changing perception of her character throughout the film, who sucks more than the others at the beginning, while Poulter is both lovable and hilarious as the clueless Kenny. Talents that are unusual and different like his (he doesn’t fit a clear mold) can really take a typical comedy up a notch and he certainly adds something to this movie. Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn also provide top-notch supporting characters as a fellow RV couple.
Despite their illegal purpose and somewhat self-centered motivations, it’s pretty impressive how easy it is to like the Millers the family, not to mention the film as a whole. The script does a great job of clearly showing how all four of them desire something good in their lives; they each demonstrate a desire to live better lives and be better people. That helps make things interesting when they’re thrown into your typical raunchy comedy tumult.
“We’re the Millers” gets a lot of the small things right, and some of the credit needs to go to director Rawson Marshall Thurber (“Dodgeball”) who knows how to avoid the eye-rolling moments and to find some heart in spite of all the predictable comedic setup, in spite of knowing that even though they are doing this for money, the Millers will become somewhat of a family, or at least care about each other in the end.
There are so many times in “We’re the Millers” when it could’ve lapsed into same-old same- old R-rated, drug-related, sexual, foul-mouthed humor, and arguably it does, but the premise and the attention give to the characters helps it avoid the falls of so many similar comedies.
Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber
Written by Bob Faber and Steve Fisher, Sean Anders and John Morris
Starring: Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Will Poulter, Emma Roberts