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.
Early on, the movie establishes the odd-couple relationship that staves off stir-craziness: Lance stops Alvin's German language tapes and swaps them out for some rock n' roll; Alvin maintains that educational materials are not covered in the previously forged "boombox agreement." After bickering, they agree, with irritation, to "enjoy the silence"—a phrase that pops up again later in the movie, because the two men make subtle echoes of other's language after a few days together. Alvin maintains a pompous interest in self-improvement, while Lance has less patience, wants to get laid, etc. With virtually no one else to play off, both actors are terrific. By now, I expect this kind of deceptive versatility from Rudd, but Hirsch, puffier and less outwardly charismatic than usual, is something of a revelation, particularly in a monologue chronicling his disappointing off-site weekend.
This moment, and so much of the movie, could be theatrical: it's a dialogue heavy two-hander, after all, with essentially one location. Thankfully, Green never lets it feel un-cinematic. The camera doesn't follow Lance on his weekend adventure, but it does find the intersection of nature and civilization: Alvin meets an older woman sifting through the ruins of her destroyed house; Green repeatedly cuts to shots of the asphalt running and running; yellow paint leaks into clear forest brooks. Maybe due to Green's and cinematographer Tim Orr's actual compositions, the offhandedness of Prince Avalanche feels more successful and less self-conscious than the much-lauded Beasts of the Southern Wild, which appropriated Green much the way Green nods to Terence Malick, but with a handheld faux-documentary veneer. If any self-consciousness makes its way into Prince Avalanche, it's in the movie's ample, mostly generous, occasionally mannered sense of humor; sometimes the odd phrasings Green gives to his actors feel a little mannered (though more often they're funny and distinct). The film staves off condescension, though, with its intimacy. It's stuck with me since it played Tribeca in April; months later it still looks like one of the best little movies of the year.
I wanted to see all of this weekend's big indies, but only had time for Avalanche and Lovelace, a sorta-biopic of the Deep Throat star, which features some diverting period recreations and a lovely, empathetic performance from Amanda Seyfried (and an appropriately creepy one from Peter Sarsgaard as the man who, according to the movie, all but sold Linda Lovelace into sex slavery). But the movie doesn't take a particularly complex view of its heroine-slash-mostly-victim; apart from telling the story of her rise to stardom and then circling back to fill in some seedier details involving Sargaard's character, it doesn't have much to say except "poor Linda Lovelace. She really had it pretty rough." I don't doubt it, but the film seems intended for an era when Lovelace would need this kind defending—and as such, winds up appearing both cavalier toward anyone in the porn industry not played by Sarsgaard and in blind agreement with Lovelace's assertion, later in life, that Deep Throat was basically hell. Seyfried and the rest of the cast bring human interest to a story that, by design, doesn't look any further past the surface than it finds convenient.
I Give It a Year and In a World both look like exactly the type of human-scale stories studios recoil from making, even when the subject matter isn't the least bit controversial: I Give It a Year is a post-marriage romantic comedy while In a World basically looks like a comedy about a single career girl (Lake Bell, who also wrote and directed). But when a broad comedy like The Do List can't get multiplex traction, it's depressingly understandable why these movies would make themselves available to discerning stay-at-home audiences.