Review: “We’re the Millers”

Emma Roberts, Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis, and Will Poulter star in "We're the Millers," here reviewed by film critic James Frazier.“We’re the Millers” might be one of the best comedies of the year. I don’t write that as an endorsement of the film, but as a commentary on comedies. In no other genre is it so difficult to make a classic, while perhaps only horror films are taken less seriously by critics and the public.

Think about it: Has there been a single year of your movie-going life when you could say that there were 10 excellent comedies released? How about five? Dare I even ask if there have been years when not even one truly funny movie hit screens?

So when it comes to laughs at the multiplex, laugh-seekers must take what they can get. And what we’ve got in “We’re the Millers” is a vaguely amusing, seriously overlong road trip comedy about a group of miscreants and oddballs who pose as a nuclear family.

Its hero is David (Jason Sudeikis), a guy who seems alright enough, as long as you’re able to consider career purveyors of illicit substances as people possessing the capacity for decency. In debt to his powerful boss (a bizarrely and boringly cast Ed Helms), David is tasked with transporting drugs from Mexico to Denver, Colo. I’m not in the know, but with Colorado’s liberalization of its marijuana laws, is Denver really an ideal place in which to smuggle drugs? But never mind (strangely, at no point do the characters get high or even demonstrate any serious interest in actually smoking pot).

David theorizes that his odds of going undetected would be greatly increased were he to pose as an upper-middle class family man. So he gathers together his neighbors Rose (Jennifer Aniston), a stripper, and Kenny (Will Poulter), a milquetoast virgin, along with homeless teen runaway Casey (Emma Roberts), to pose as his family, riding to and from Mexico in an RV.

Many of the plot points are out of a cliché handbook, made watchable only because they are performed by a cast that seems game to take on the material. The “family” inadvertently befriends an actual family of Midwesterners, a set of rubes that goes far to illustrate Hollywood’s contempt for the flyover peoples. Kenny suffers a spider bite resulting in a grotesque injury to a private area. Casey gets in boy trouble but comes to rely on her faux-mother and father figures for guidance. On and on. There’s even a lengthy instance in which Rose strips to distract a villain, one of countless moments in Aniston’s career where she sorta-kinda shows skin to get attention, then acts coy about it come publicity time when fielding thousands of inane press questions about the scene. No points for correctly guessing whether or not the “Millers” ultimately bond with one another.

There are hints of a better comedy in here. One sequence shows David interacting with a range of customers from all walks of life, which might have been used for some interesting commentary on class and drug use, but this film doesn’t have such weighty matters on its mind. Another sees Kenny being taught how to French kiss by his “sister” and “mother,” who take turns with the task, a scene that manages to be hilarious simply because it makes clever and provocative (but not disgusting) use of its context. Oh, how I wanted the film to latch onto these moments and cling for dear life. But as soon as anything interesting happens, “We’re the Millers” reverts back to boilerplate, with gags borrowed from so many others that it would be difficult to trace where they even started.

So when I say that this is one of the best comedies of the year, I mean it. “We’re the Millers” does have a few laughs, more so than many fellow members of its genre that have hit screens in 2013. But being one of the best comedies of the year only requires that a very low threshold be crossed, so low that it doesn’t even require that the movie itself actually be good.