Comedy’s a wonderful thing. It can cut the rich and powerful down to size, deflate the pompous, make us question our institutions, our relationships and even ourselves. Nothing is outside its scope; and everyone is always grateful for a laugh; but who or what a work asks us to laugh at, what it asks us to laugh about; and how it makes us laugh can all vary enormously and are grounds on which it may be evaluated.
By such criteria, American movie comedy is in terrible shape. I thought The Heat earned its laughs but trafficked way too much in the crude, the base and the cheap. The level’s just as low in We’re The Millers but the laughs don’t come as quickly or as heartily: it’s all stupid Mexican drug dealers, big black dicks, anal penetration, gay jokes and making fun of lower-middle-class squares who ride in camper vans and pray. Fart jokes are about the only thing missing.
The premise is sitcom-y but serviceable; drug dealer David Clark (Jason Sudelkis), Rose O’Reilly (Jennifer Aniston) the stripper next door, Kenny (Will Poulter), a latch-key kid who also lives in the building but whose mom has run off, and Casey (Emma Robets) the local homeless girl, pretend to be a family in order to smuggle drugs from Mexico into the US. Of course, as they pretend to be a family so they become one; and the film serves a stodgy mix of sentimentality, shoot-outs, and car-chases all stirred with a barrage of jokes and gags: some of them hit.
We’re the Millers never raises itself above the gutter. Though the audience I saw it with couldn’t help but chuckle; indeed, we’re so hungry for a laugh, we may be grateful for anything that approximates it, watching the film is a sad affair.
Jennifer Aniston’s very fit, but all her mannerisms are known to us from Friends, a connection Anniston’s been trying to run away from for the last twenty years but which the film exploits in the gag reel at the end. Rose is not a character; she’s simply Rachel, twenty-years later, reduced to stripping, smuggling, worse jokes and cheaper gags.
Sudelkis and Poulter are new to me and a bright spot in the film; Sudelkis has an intelligent, emotionally open face that can look straight at the audience right through the camera and then go right back into the situation (accent on situation — there’s nothing dramatically believable here) without missing a beat; and he’s got an ear for speaking that beat: his timing’s ace. Will Poulter is an even happier discovery; the audience I saw the film embraced everything he did; he’s emotionally transparent, and though he’s got the gauche, thin physique of an adolescent, he moves gracefully and manages to maintains his and the character’s dignity even when a director sends a tarantula up his trousers. He’s a real find and could become a big new star if judiciously cast.
Director Rawson Marshall Thurber has a good ear for a joke and a good eye for a gag but I wish he’d use that eye and that ear to better ends than We’re the Millers. American cinema used to make us laugh whilst also making us want to be like the people we were laughing at and with; it satirized the culture whilst making us yearn to be a part of it. You’ll laugh at the Millers and their world; but you wouldn’t want be them and you certainly wouldn’t like to live as and where they do.