Tuesday, 10 September 2013

We're the Millers (2013)

Though we didn’t ask for it, We’re the Millers could well revive the National Lampoon Vacation series

A small-time pot dealer who’s more slacker than sleazeball gets robbed of stash and cash. The offer that he can’t refuse from his unscrupulous asshole of a distributor, boss, and college mate: traffic a ‘smidge’ of marijuana (which turns out to be an understatement) from Mexico back into the USA. Our pot dealer enlists a stripper, a runaway, and a socially awkward and very virginal kid—all denizens of his apartment building—to pose as his WASP, all-American family on a cross-country vacation in an attempt to pass for normal and deflect attention from sharp-nosed customs officials. And you have the gimmick of this film: a collection of mostly maladjusted, potty-mouthed individuals who can’t stand each other posing as a picture-perfect family on vacation.

Once the team is assembled and introduced to each other, the rest of the film feels like a series of sketches on all the possible shenanigans that could happen on both a family RV vacation and a cross-border drug smuggling operation strung together.

As far as I can tell, the four (!) scriptwriters couldn’t really decide on the twist of this situation comedy. Strangely, that isn’t a fatal flaw for this film even though Hollywood comedies tend to tank when they have a gimmick but no twist or an inappropriate twist. Here, the scriptwriters should thank the casting department, which has brought together actors who have proven themselves on sketch comedy shows (Jason Sudeikis, Nick Offerman, Kathryn Hahn, Jennifer Aniston), have a talent for ad-libbing their way into hilarious lines despite weak scripts, and as it turns out, have a great chemistry with each other.

The twist to the gimmick that the scriptwriters of We’re the Millers have settled on is that the fake family gradually slips into their skins as a cohesive and functional family unit despite their protestations and mutual dislike of one another, and their poor attempts at subterfuge. With a well-written script where the characters are better drawn and evoke some emotional investment from the audience, this might be the way to go.

But when the characters are cardboard thin and the emphasis is on raunchy jokes and salty dialogue, the right twist should be this: the average family can, on the right day, look pretty dysfunctional and that on tour, all families tend to look like they're on their worst behaviour so precisely because of the ineffective subterfuge and the mutual dislike of one another, the Millers are indeed a family that no one would pay attention to—much to their surprise.

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