Friday, August 9, 2013

<i>We're the Millers</i> and the Many Faces of Jason Sudeikis

Posted By on Fri, Aug 9, 2013 at 2:25 PM

Were the Millers Jason Sudeikis Jennifer Aniston
We're the Millers: In sketches on Saturday Night LiveJason Sudeikis has played his share of clean-cut extra-white dudes; he parlayed his talent for affability on the edge of cluelessness into an impression of Mitt Romney that was all the more memorable for not particularly nailing Romney's voice or mannerisms. He can do smiling and handsome—in his guest stint on 30 Rock, he even looked like a romantic lead—but his versatility on SNL also led to roles as equally affable half-loose cannons (including but not limited to another untechnical but hilarious political caricature: Joe Biden). This is the side he plays to in his bigger movie roles in comedies like Horrible Bosses, Hall Pass, and A Good Old Fashioned Orgy: the slightly louche wise-ass with a polishable veneer.

We're the Millers charges Sudeikis with a transition between those types. He begins as a scruffy, backpacked weed dealer, and when a powerful businessman (Ed Helms) asks him to smuggle drugs across the border, he gets a dorkier haircut and a closer shave: to assuage suspicion, he will pose as the head of an All-American family on an RV trip. To fill out the camper, he recruits his neighbor Rose (Jennifer Aniston), a stripper in dire financial straits; his other neighbor Kenny (Will Poulter), an awkward but big-hearted teenager; and neighborhood runaway Casey (Emma Roberts), who is essentially homeless but maintains an iPhone. The movie was directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, and as with his previous comedy, Dodgeball, its premise and execution have something of an 80s-revival shade. This puts Sudeikis in Vince Vaughn's scruffy/sarcastic Dodgeball role, which itself seemed cribbed from early Bill Murray, but Sudeikis's David has a streak of hostility that Murray and Vaughn usually keep more on the latent side. In early scenes, his comic sniping is laid back; once the ersatz Millers are under actual pressure, he snaps at his makeshift family with regularity. It's funny enough, though it often leaves Sudeikis sidestepping one of his most delightful comic notes: surprising, sometimes unwarranted enthusiasm.

A sharper movie might have made more of the way David's profane impatience doesn't so much run counter to the a happy-family image as it naturally builds under the surface of that smiling façade. Then again, We're the Millers never states or even really implies an intention to satirize; if anything, it telegraphs David's journey from rolling-solo arrested undergrad to leader of a misfit family from the get-go. As a comedy director, Thurber has a talent for keeping things scrappy and loose—borderline sloppy, really. For a while, the movie skips along, not scoring many huge laughs but plenty of small chuckles, especially when the Millers meet up with the genuinely squeaky-clean Fitzgerald family (led by Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn). When the Fitzgeralds press David and Rose for the story of how they met, Sudeikis hides their lack of romantic spark in plain sight, and the scene has a funny screwball tension.

Too bad, though, that Aniston often falls back to her put-upon-with-a-killer-bod shtick, which seems designed more for sympathy than comedy. A supposed comic set piece where she must prove that her housewife disguise really does hide a professional stripper doesn't really work because it's reduced to Aniston doing a bunch of mildly risqué stripper moves and takes forever to reach a total lack of a punchline. It seems to me for this scene to work, Aniston would have to be either ridiculously and athletically great or (preferably) surprisingly terrible at exotic dancing; the movie gets distracted by her body (and hey, looking great in her 40s! Good for her!), relieves her from any heavy-duty comic work, and cuts the sequence into mostly unironic cheesecake.

It's around this time that the movie starts to fall apart; I'm no believer in the doctrine that comedies must come in around 90 minutes to work, but a running-time cap sure would help a slight and silly one like We're the Millers. But maybe it's just a resource-allocation problem. Emma Roberts, with her pipsqueak voice, and Will Poulter, with his eager-to-please geekiness, are both funny and weirdly adorable, yet feel underutilized; the movie's genial shambling catches up to them. Sudeikis, meanwhile, keeps toggling between irritation and laid-back wiseassery, coming off a little bit restless in an ok comedy that won't quite make him a star.

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