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Non-Review Review: We’re the Millers

We’re the Millers is a fairly humorous premise extended well past breaking point. The basic set-up (a bunch of strangers pretend to be a family to smuggle drugs into the United States) is a solid enough starting point for a comedy, but We’re the Millers often feels like it’s running on fumes trying to stretch the gag out. There are long lulls of the film where nothing seems to happen, and entire subplots that seem grafted in simply to eat up precious minutes. Does the film really need a teenage romance subplot?

We’re the Millers has a few hilarious moments, and Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston have enough charm that it’s never too painful to watch, but the film’s extended runtime means that its cynical premise can only maintain its wry thrust for so long before it’s brought down to Earth by the oppressive weight of sentimentality. For a film that starts out cheeky and subversive, the movie meanders into sappy and cheesy territory with considerable speed.

Family fun...

Family fun…

To be fair, there are some nice gags in We’re the Millers. Sudeikis is well-able to run with a punchline far longer than it should remain viable, and Aniston has a well-honed skill for antagonistic romantic chemistry. The two play well off one another, and their banter and mutual dislike sustains a lot of the first half of the film. It’s only when we move past the traditional “angry flirty” stage that the movie runs into trouble. We can see strained sentimentality approaching quickly, and it rapidly eats away at the film.

Indeed, anybody given the roughest of outlines for the film (as mentioned above, “a bunch of strangers pretend to be a family to smuggle drugs into the United States”) can immediately see which way the movie is going. What’s disappointing is how little resistance the movie can muster against that rising tide of saccharine sweetness, as our outcasts discover that they function surprisingly well as a nuclear family.

He has an ear for this sort of thing...

He has an ear for this sort of thing…

Rawson Marshall Thurber’s Dodgeball struggled to walk the line between over-earnest cheesiness and wry irony, just about succeeding by virtue of the fact it is very hard to like Vince Vaughn, no matter how much a movie might want you to. With two likeable leads and a bunch of hazily-defined co-stars, there’s nothing to cancel out that schmultz inertia, and it sets in pretty rapidly.  Thurber and his writers are able to temporarily offset it with a few quirky supporting roles, but that sentimentality is always stalking the film.

There are moments of comedic wonder. Whenever Ed Helms appears on screen as a sleazy executive drug dealer, the film seems to lighten up. Helms’ deliciously geeky (and admittedly manipulative) kingpin is great fun. It allows the actor to play just a bit against type, but it also marks a welcome contrast with most sinister druglords we’ve seen in these sorts comedies. Helms gets the movie’s best sight gags and his scenes with Sudeikis cackle with a charming energy.

Is We're The Millers a Recreational Vehicle?

Is We’re The Millers a Recreational Vehicle?

Similarly, Nick Offerman makes a nice supporting comedic performer as the patriarch of another family on their own RV-related adventures. Despite Offerman’s wonderfully understated delivery, you can already feel the movie straining when his character appears. By all counts, our characters have pretty much accomplished what they set out to do. They should be home free. The movie is just fumbling to find something to keep us occupied for the next hour or so.

It’s a shame that so much of that padding winds up so generic. The other couple are at least intriguing, injected some energy into the film. However, the subplots involving the two “kids” feel somewhat shallow. Emma Roberts is wasted as Casey, the runaway who inevitably discovers that she really wants a functional family. Will Poulter tries his best as Kenny, who winds up feeling like just another generic “nerdy” character who winds up with a crush on a girl that he is too terrified to pursue.

The movie would have done better to steer clear of cliché...

The movie would have done better to steer clear of cliché…

We’re the Millers tries to balance out some of this sweeter stuff by throwing in all manner of dirty jokes – there are a variety of sexual gags thrown in to help add a little edge to what’s otherwise a fairly conventional road trip “family” movie. Some of these work relatively well, but others overstay their welcome and feel a little bit tired – as if the movie is trying to push the envelop a bit in order to distract from how conventional the whole set-up is.

It’s all fairly standard paint-by-numbers stuff, only fleetingly elevated by the charm of the cast. Running ten minutes shy of two hours, it can’t help but feel overextended. There’s a pretty nice funny and subversive little movie in here somewhere. It just looks like finding it would require some thorough excavation.

4 Responses

  1. It’s pretty conventional stuff, but I still had fun with it. Started off badly, but surprisingly got better and funnier as a result. Good review Darren.

    • I actually thought the opposite. Liked the set-up, but thought it slowed down once it had to extend its basic premise to an hour-and-three-quarters.

  2. Cool to see ron swanson take on new roles

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