Hollywood’s ultimate financial bread and butter–the Midwest–has been reflected back to itself rather mockingly in We’re The Millers. The concept of “the family unit” seems decidedly quaint in the current culture. Rawson Marshall Thurber’s We’re the Millers serves to accent this fact and make fun of those who still somehow find themselves in a traditional family. Thurber’s style, as cultivated in Dodgeball, reflects a straightforward, simplistic aesthetic that works well with the equally straightforward script—written by Bob Fisher, Steve Faber, Sean Anders and John Morris (it’s generally a bad sign when that many people need to have a hand in writing a screenplay). While the film is clearly aimed at making Midwestern audiences laugh, there is something decidedly contemptuous about the tone in so doing.
What makes the film stand apart automatically for its Midwest-friendly vibe is that it takes place in Denver (which nothing ever does). This everyman sort of city is the ideal place to depict low level drug dealer David Clark’s (Jason Sudeikis) mediocre life. At the beginning of the film, David encounters an old college friend (played by Chris Parnell) who marvels at how static David’s life has remained. Indeed, it is instantly clear that David’s few interactions are with his neighbor, Rose (Jennifer Aniston), who—it is apparently important to consistently note—strips for a living, and his other neighbor, Kenny (Will Poulter), an awkward, neglected 18-year-old. David makes the mistake of involving himself in Kenny’s attempt at saving a runaway named Casey (Emma Roberts) from getting her phone stolen. As a result, all of David’s drug money, as well as the drugs, are taken.
With no way to pay back his eccentric, yet scary, boss, Brad (Ed Helms), David is forced to obey Brad’s request to go to Mexico and pick up “a smidge and a half” of weed to bring back to Denver. Knowing full well he already looks the part of a pothead/pot dealer, David devises a plan to create a fake family, rent an RV, drive it back under the guise of having gone on a family vacation and never risk suspicion at the border. The small hiccup in the plan to serve as dramatic irony is that David has no idea that the weed he’s collecting actually belongs to a Mexican drug lord.
With all of the necessary players in place (Kenny’s got nothing to do, Rose’s strip club wants her to start having sex with customers so she quits and Casey needs some sort of roof over her head), David begins the makeover process. Getting a haircut at some Super Cuts-esque establishment and telling Casey not to spend her money at Hot Topic are just some of the ways in which sweeping generalizations about “typical” middle class families are made.
By the time they hit the road, they practically are a real family–bickering and all. Between several awkward encounters with fellow family travelers Don (Nick Offerman), Edie (Kathryn Hahn) and Melissa (Molly Quinn)—the Fitzgeralds—an impromptu striptease to escape the clutches of Pablo Chacon (Tomer Sisley) and an incident involving the inflation of Kenny’s ball, getting the drugs across the border proves to be the least of their worries. But all of this is merely a series of hijinks serving the ultimate outcome of We’re The Millers, which leads to each fake family member realizing they don’t actually like being alone, with no one to answer to. Is it a gimmicky and predictable ending? Absolutely. But that’s not what makes it unpalatable. It’s the overt disingenuousness of appealing to a certain demographic by maligning their way of life. On the plus side, the outtakes show Jennifer Aniston’s co-stars blaring “I’ll Be There For You” on the radio.