A more apt title for We’re the Millers would be National Lampoon’s Marijuana Vacation. Only this isn’t really a stoner comedy at all. It’s a family comedy disguised as a stoner comedy. At that, an R-rated family comedy that’s certainly not ‘for the whole family’, unless you’re quite the irreverent, dysfunctional bunch. For a movie about a pot dealer who enlists a fake family to help him smuggle a large shipment of weed across the U.S./Mexico border, no one so much as lights up a joint throughout the entire film. Instead we get a surprising amount of heart that pushes family values, mixed with the usual array of crude sexual humor. The movie plays like a never-made sequel to Chevy Chase’s Vacation series, but with a contemporary edge that we’ve come to expect from the current trend of R-rated comedies.
Saturday Night Live alum Jason Sudeikis gets his first go at leading man after a string of scene-stealing supporting roles in films such as Horrible Bosses and Hall Pass. If this movie is any indication, Sudeikis could very well be one of the lucky SNL’ers to parlay his TV gig into a major motion picture career; he shares that snarky, yet goodhearted quality that Bill Murray and Chevy Chase had. Although Sudeikis is the lead here, he has to settle for second billing to America’s sweetheart Jennifer Aniston. In addition to being a tabloid magnet, Aniston’s proving to be a very funny comedic performer. Between this movie and last year’s Wanderlust, it’s refreshing to see an A-list actress choose edgy and offbeat material in lieu of generic ‘boy meets girl‘ romantic comedies (not that she hasn’t done a few of those). Like Sudeikis, Aniston had her own scene-stealing turn in Horrible Bosses (though the two never shared screen time together).
Sudeikis plays David Clark, a slacker pot dealer whose been living the same lifestyle since college. When thousands of dollars and pounds of pot are stolen from his apartment, David’s employer and ‘white collar’ drug kingpin Brad Gurdlinger (Ed Helms) forces him to pick up a huge shipment of weed from a Mexican drug cartel in order to make good on his debt. Realizing that a scruffy looking hipster crossing borders could be a red flag, David enlists the help of a stripper (Aniston), a teenage runaway (Emma Roberts), and his dorky young neighbor (Will Poulter), to pose as a clean-cut all-American family traveling cross country in an RV. Obviously, this plan will not go so smoothly, and hilarity and hijinks will ensue.
If at times the film may feel like an R-rated sitcom, that’s not to say it isn’t funny. Integrating the ‘comedy of errors’, ‘mistaken identity’, and ‘fish-out-of-water’ scenarios, this is a ‘high-concept’ (no pun intended) comedy that has little in common with reality (middle-aged strippers do not look like Jennifer Aniston). Although the screenplay is credited to four writers, Bob Fisher & Steve Faber (the duo behind Wedding Crashers), and Sean Anders & John Morris (the duo behind Hot Tub Time Machine), luckily the story moves with fluidity and doesn’t have that ‘movie by committee’ feel. While there are many set-pieces thrown in that feel like ideas tossed out at pitch-meetings, the comedy (both in setup and execution) is done so well that the somewhat contrived nature of it hardly matters. The first act is probably the weakest portion of the film, but once the ‘family’ hits the road, the movie hits its stride; with director Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story) keeping a fun pace up until the closing credits.
To a large extent, the success of this film lies on the likability of the actors. Sudeikis and Aniston are strong leads who anchor a fantastic supporting cast. Will Poulter, a relatively unknown British actor, is a real find as the awkward, sweet Kenny. The scene where his “sister” and “mom” teach him how to kiss is perhaps the funniest thing in the movie. Not only will Poulter be the envy of every guy in the audience with his gratuitous make out scene, but the payoff to this joke is ingenious. Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn bring the laughs as The Fitzgerald’s, a real-life version of the happy-go-lucky middle American family that ‘The Millers’ are only pretending to be. But as you’ll see, The Fitzgerald’s have a naughty side. During their travels, ‘The Millers’ will cross paths with DEA agents, drug lords, and kooky midwesterners, learning lessons along the way. Not only is it all very funny, but you’ll root for these outcasts as they begin to bond and form their makeshift family.
With a couple of exceptions, 2013 hasn’t delivered much in the laughs department. So while We’re the Millers isn’t necessarily side-splitting, it’s just gut-busting enough to make it one of the best comedies of the year. The storyline is entertaining, the cast is endearing, and even if it isn’t always hilarious; it is always fun. The script is full of witty plot points (including a sly ending) making for a more clever farce than you might expect. They’re raunchy, they’re sweet, and they’ll make you laugh; so go on vacation with ‘The Miller’ family.