The previews for the new comedy, We’re The Millers, look canned at best. A lot of camera mugging from aging A-listers and SNL alum. It’s fairly clear why this is on precisely no one’s radar. It’s story arc is canned and all the crucial plot points are telegraphed. Even the characters are tired movie tropes. Than why, against all odds, did the Millers make me laugh harder than any other movie this summer?
You see it’s a combination. Summer movie comedies of late have been broad, slapstick dumpster dives that feast on the cliché’s of the past. They often layer in a sappy message of togetherness to give the ending some “heart.” The Millers says the hell with that. These are largely unlikeable protagonists with very little redeeming about their personalities. David Clark (Jason Sudeikis) is a small time pot dealer in Denver. He has no friends, is enemies with most people in his apartment building and is perfectly happy with that. His days consist of very little other than the occasional dime bag to a doctor or lawyer. It’s a cozy, largely useless existence.
His world is turned upside-down when one night he attempts to rescue a gutter-punk named Casey (Emma Roberts) who is being harassed on the street by some thugs. His wise-ass demeanor doesn’t play so well and he’s beat up and robbed as the thugs clean out his stash. To answer for such recklessness, David’s boss Brad Gurdlinger (Ed Helms) needs him to zip on down Mexico-way for what he calls a “smidge” of pot and smuggle it back to the states.
David hatches a fairly ingenious plan. He needs to hire a family to pose with him as his own to go to Mexico in an RV, pick up the drugs and zip back over without even a blink from the border patrol. To do this he hires recently out-of-work stripper Rose (Jennifer Aniston) as his wife and two kids – one being the aforementioned gutter punk Casey and the other a goofball teenager named Kenny (Will Poulter.) Their initial scene as a happy family is hysterical farce as they too aggressively introduce themselves to their flight attendants. The film plays with the “happy family” trope probably a bit too much but when it works it generates a ton of laughs.
The film really takes off as the Millers make their return trip from Mexico to Denver. At the border as they are sweating bullets with much more than a smidge of pot in their RV they run across another vacationing family – the Fitzgerald’s (Nick Offerman, Kathryn Haun, Molly Quinn.) They are the quintessential road-trip family, who don’t swear, thanks the Good Lord before every meal and are a little too friendly with their fellow man. They make for a great folly on the trip and provide more than a few choice scenes including a very suggestive game of Pictionary and a MAJOR misunderstanding in a tent.
The principal and supporting cast is almost universally wonderful here. Jennifer Aniston is as sharp and quick-witted as she’s been in 15-years. I’ve always liked her on-camera personality and here Director Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball) lets her use her comic chops rather than suppress them in a boring romantic subplot. Jason Sudeikis – of SNL fame – is great as the smug pot head David. I love Sudeikis on SNL but haven’t found his film work to be an interesting use of his talents yet. Here his demonstrative, silly personality is given a full range of exploits and he uses them admirably. The real standout though is Will Poulter as Kenny. Poulter is so willfully naïve that you almost believe this kid has to be that bizarre in real life. Everything down to his basic line delivery I found pretty hysterical and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
The best thing that can be said about the Millers is it has tremendous energy. The Apatowian era of comedy has led to some fantastic films (40-year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, This is the End, The Heat, Bridesmaids) but it’s also made way for some majorly bloated run-times. The Millers is well under 2-hours and never lags. The energy makes up for the relatively benign plot and relieves the ending of any sappy sentiment that could have plagued it. It also keeps the jokes coming. If one doesn’t hit there’s another just around the corner. It’s refreshing for a high concept movie to embrace said concept rather than attempt to ground it in reality (think National Lampoon’s Vacation.) It’s ultimately what elevates We’re The Millers from middling drivel to a very fun night at the movies.