Friday, August 9, 2013


There seem to be certain actresses who, having attained some popularity and acclaim, are suddenly subject to a peculiar fashionable backlash. Jennifer Aniston has been a major star for almost twenty years now, but I can only think of one person I know who would admit to liking her.

Except me, that is. I like her. She isn’t, perhaps, an actress of any great range, but within the scope of what she does she has an easygoing, companionable manner, an unpretentious, goodhearted air of common sense that I find fairly irresistible. She has what used to be called a girl-next-door quality.

She’s also managed her career with remarkable shrewdness. The adult comedy We’re the Millers would probably be a very small blip on the summer movie radar if the movie’s trailer didn’t make it clear that Aniston performs a striptease. The scene in question is nothing especially eye-popping in itself—though Aniston, at 44 years, has every reason to feel confident with her clothes off—but there’s somehow an unearned pop-culture piquancy because it’s sweet little Rachel from Friends gyrating up there.

Aniston is the story about the film, but she isn’t the central character. That distinction belongs to the likable SNL veteran Jason Sudeikis as Dave, a scruffy, single, small-time weed dealer in Denver. Dave’s not a bad sort, but when he gets robbed of his stash and cash, and is forced to make a huge smuggling run to Mexico and back to make up the loss to his noxious boss (Ed Helms), he realizes that “disreputable loser” is written all over him, and that he’ll never get past the border guards alone.

His wacky solution is to enlist three neighbors from his building to masquerade as his square middle-class family, taking a trip south of the border in an RV the size of a small continent; he figures this hide-in-plain-sight cover will make him invisible to the authorities. So a neglected adolescent boy (the terrific Will Poulter) plays his good-hearted son, a guttersnipe runaway (Emma Roberts) plays his teenage daughter, and a broke, fed-up stripper (Aniston) poses as the little woman (a thieving boyfriend is used to explain how a stripper with no drug problem comes to be broke).

The plan works perfectly, and the trip goes smoothly. Just kidding. All manner of humiliating—and rather xenophobic—complications arise for the foulmouthed, sarcastic quartet, all in roughly the manner of The Hangover and its imitators. “The Millers” end up entangled with drug lords and DEA agents and crooked motorcycle cops; they’re pulled into other people’s marital frustrations. A tarantula crawls up a pantleg, resulting in a sight gag similar to a notorious one in 1998’s There’s Something About Mary.

It’s a sentimental comedy, of course—the four start to truly bond as a family through all of this and to look out for each other. Director Rawson Marshall Thurber gets the picture off to an excellent start, setting up the premise with admirable speed and efficiency. But the contrived, heavy-handed shtick slows it down as it progresses.

Still, the actors keep it from grinding to a halt. I thought there were plenty of laughs—mostly rising from the characterizations, not the coarse gags—even if the movie loses some energy in its second half. The four Millers really do seem to connect and learn to enjoy each other’s company. It’s soon easy to perceive affection just under the surface of their casual, almost reflexive exchange of obscenities and aspersions.

In this way, their behavior probably isn’t too different from most square middle-class families. They just think it is, because they’ve gotten their image of such families from movies and TV. But then, the makers of We’re the Millers have probably gotten their image of outcasts and misfits from the movies.

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