‘We’re the Millers’ Deconstructs the American Family, but In a Good Way

It becomes clear early on in We’re the Millers that this is more than a slapstick vehicle for Jason Sudeikis to showcase his Saturday Night Live skills. It’s also a departure from Jennifer Aniston’s usually disappointing “Girl Next Door” fare.

This dark comedy is about a small-time pot peddler David (Sudeikis) who finds himself forced to transition into smuggling when he winds up owing his “boss”, the woefully miscast Ed Helms, a sizable chunk of change. With his only other option being probable bodily harm resulting in death, David has no choice but to agree.

He devises a plan that’s he’s confident will get him across the Mexican border and back without arousing suspicion. He assembles a fake family that includes: stripper and cash-strapped Rose (Jennifer Aniston), a local runaway (Emma Roberts) and a teenage neighbor (Will Poulter). David finds himself in over his head on both fronts and encounters obstacle after obstacle, trying to acclimate to leaping ahead several rungs on the drug trade career ladder and being the patriarch of a fake family.

The fact that this band of societal misfits are thrown together either by divine providence or by design doesn’t differ greatly from many families. David may have chosen each member of his “family”, but Kenny and Rose are convenient in terms of proximity, and he meets Casey by chance. We exist in a polarizing time when what constitutes a family is actually being argued about and decided by the courts, the idea that people not related by blood can be drawn to each other by forces greater than genes and DNA. Yes, “traditional” families that embody the values that religious conservatives tout do indeed still exist. However, We’re the Millers deconstructs these traditional ideas and stereotypes and leaves the audience questioning where they came from in the first place. Consider the film a less allegorical and more accessible Pleasantville.

David’s first recruit is Kenny, literally the boy next door, an 18-year-old freckled-faced virgin, who looks like he jumped off the pages of an Archie comic. He is a Richie Cunningham among thug wannabees, a throwback to a time when boys wore their pants around their actual waists and only had access to a girl through a land phone line or the front door, where the parents stood (or possibly through a bedroom window). He’s everything David isn’t, not an uncommon phenomenon when it comes to fathers and sons. David is puzzled, and at times shocked, at Kenny’s earnestness.

Kenny, who clearly lacks a father figure in his own home, is so desperate to please David, he’s willing to perform fellatio on a Mexican cop. Obviously, this is one of many times when the archetypal family dynamic is exaggerated to the point of absurdity. His character is an anomaly in this group since his “sister” Casey, “mother” Rose, and David all possess a more contemporary skepticism. Ironically, Kenny is the black sheep of this family.

The female contingent of David’s family lack softness, but this doesn’t diminish their femininity. In fact, it emphasizes it. Roberts is the rebellious teenage daughter, disguised by the fashion worn by girls in suburbs all over the country; that is, whatever is affordable at the local mall. Her identity and back story are pretty much a clean slate. This opportunity is a rebirth for the girl, whom David names Casey on a whim.

Aniston is always more enjoyable to watch when she ditches her generic romantic comedy persona. Rose isn’t forlorn as her character in The Good Girl, nor is she as over-the-top as the sex-crazed, domineering dentist in Horrible Bosses. The stripper with a heart of gold character is a cliché, when Rose’s innate maternal instinct kicks in, it’s born out of her own negative experiences. Her protectiveness over Casey and Kenny evolves over time, but it manifests itself in deviant and even violent ways. Rose never really demonstrates outright physical affection for either Kenny or Casey (aside from twisted homage to Freud), but Aniston still conveys a burgeoning warmth toward the teens.

When it comes to the relationship between Kenny and Rose, the Oedipal Complex is addressed in a less than subtle manner in several scenes. Predictably, Kenny is exposed to Rose’s exotic dancing and responds in kind. David chastises him, but it’s unclear if it’s because he’s jealous or is momentarily buying into the farce.

It doesn’t take long for each person to become subconsciously immersed into their roles, with the exception of Kenny, who has obviously longed for a nuclear family for most of his life. He’s so genuine that he’s the only member of the group to help David out of the sheer goodness of his heart.

Casey whines incessantly to stop when she spots a fireworks stand on the side of the road. David refuses, triggering a meltdown that includes the inevitable “I’ll turn this car around.” He’s the most resistant to buying into the fantasy, yet the most insistent to keep up appearances. The moment when the one firecracker David purchases doesn’t so much as erupt but sputters, is a perfect metaphor for most family vacations: a big buildup followed by inevitable disappointment.

The deconstruction of the traditional family continues when the Millers meet Don and Edie Fitzgerald (Nick Offerman, Kathryn Hahn), and their teenage daughter Melissa (Molly Quinn). They are an even more absurd over-exaggeration of a typical family that only dwells on the big and small screen. On the surface, they are what the Millers are trying to be. However, even though Edie doesn’t ever swear, and Don unquestionably wears the pants, they too are stripped down and exposed as people with issues that they spend most of their time trying to keep from bubbling to the surface.

David is the last to come around, but his relationships with the other characters evolves organically. It’s clear that he’ll never be a warm and fuzzy Steve Martin in Father of the Bride kind of “dad”. That kind of epiphany would be disingenuous. Not only is We’re the Millers a funny movie, it reassures viewers that all families try to navigate around their own specific set of issues. In other words, it puts the fun in dysfunctional.

In addition to an extended version of the film with eight minutes of footage not included in the theatrical version, there are over 45 minutes of Special Features. There’s no shortage of outtakes, and viewers get a behind-the-scenes peek at everything Miller even down to their makeovers. Also, in a film this funny, be sure to check out the gag reel. You won’t be disappointed.

RATING 6 / 10
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