We’re the Millers review: broken bad

We're the Millers red light Emma Roberts Jennifer Aniston Jason Sudeikis Will Poulter

Reason No. 34,075 to legalize drugs: it would eliminate painfully unfunny comedies like this one. Comedy shouldn’t make you pity the comedians.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): the trailer made the film look awful

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Reason No. 34,075 to legalize drugs: it would eliminate painfully unfunny comedies like this one, which draws part of its putative “humor” from the “hilarity” of marijuana — just, you know: pot, tee-hee! — and from the “wackiness” of smuggling weed across the Mexico-U.S. border. I mean, if there was even the tiniest hint of an appreciation of the absurdity of deploying paramilitary forces to stop people getting mellow munchies from a plant that’s less harmful than legal tobacco, maybe We’re the Millers might have had a fucking point in existing. But it doesn’t.

Instead, it took the “talents” of four screenwriters — the teams of Bob Fisher and Steve Faber (who collaborated on the not-bad Wedding Crashers), and Sean Anders and John Morris (who collaborated on the not-good Hot Tub Time Machine and She’s Out of My League) — to come up with a small-time Denver dealer who is forced by circumstances to agree to smuggle a quantity of pot and concocts a plan to detract border-patrol attention by hiring a fake family to accompany him; dorky suburban dads are invisible and above suspicion, seems to be the idea. Bizarrely, Jason Sudeikis (Epic, Movie 43), as the dealer, is far more appealing in a chilled-out sort of way before he transforms himself into RV Dad, as is Jennifer Aniston (Just Go with It, The Switch) as his stripper neighbor, before she agrees to pretend to be his squeaky-clean wife; her despair at the indignities of her work are sharp and pointed. (Emma Roberts’s [The Art of Getting By, It’s Kind of a Funny Story] street kid and Will Poulter’s [The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader] teen dork round out the “family.” Nothing here allows them to distinguish themselves. I would feel bad for them, except I know they got a nice cushy paycheck for this.)

This is the sort of pathetic excuse for a comedy that thinks it’s clever because it comes up with a new type of “funny” crotch injury (the spider bite that leads to zany swollen pain — so amusing!) and thinks it’s subversive because it finds women’s sexual desire a hoot: Kathryn Hahn (The Dictator, The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard), the mom of another RV family the “Millers” meet on the road has a vibrator. That’s the “punchline”: she states that she has a vibrator. It’s funny that women like having orgasms. (It’s also funny, apparently, that her husband, played by Nick Offerman [Casa de Mi Padre, 21 Jump Street], might potentially find another man sexually attractive.) Only a thin, blonde, conventionally attractive woman stripping for the pleasure of straight men is genuinely erotic, of course. The best that might be said of director Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story) is that he understands the visual tropes of softcore pornography-slash-advertising. The scene in which Aniston must strip to convince a dangerous druglord that she’s not the mom she’s pretending to be could easily be a TV ad for a sportscar, Victoria’s Secret, or a soft drink. (Hint: That’s not a compliment.) Bonus points to Thurber for being offensively cheap and sleazy while simultaneously offensively implying that moms can’t be — or shouldn’t be — “sexy.” If there’s a better way in which Thurber could set off my feminist rage meter in opposite directions, he has not found it here.

Probably the very worst thing about We’re the Millers, however, is in how these people, who became unlikeable to us and to one another the moment they hooked up, suddenly get sentimental about their “family” after 90 minutes of behaving in unspeakably awful ways to one another. It is, of course, a Hollywood tradition of the past two decades, at least, for what is meant to be a comedy to offer us terrible people who are treated badly by the film itself, whom we have been invited to laugh at throughout, suddenly shift gears and expect us to feel sorry for them in the end, as a would-be sentimental ending gets tacked onto their misadventures. But this may be the most egregious example yet of how that sort of tonal shift doesn’t work, because here we’re also meant to accept, without any evidence to support it, that these people suddenly also see themselves as a sort of family, and suddenly care deeply for one another. I cannot remember a movie that did less to earn such a tonal shift than this one. And the bar was already really low.

The only funny moments here — and by this I don’t mean “the funniest moments” but the only ones offering even the teensiest bit of amusement — are the bloopers that run with the end credits. And even here, there is revulsion. Aniston gets pranked with some Friends-related ribbing, and the look on her face — which can only have been genuine — is one of sheer horror, as she apparently suddenly realizes the depths to which she has fallen, or, perhaps, the nightmare that is the paucity of decent roles for women in Hollywood. Comedy shouldn’t make you pity the comedians.

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.
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