We’re the Millers – Film Review

We're the Millers

David (Jason Sudeikis) is a drug dealer with a problem. After all his drugs and money are stolen in a tame mugging that escalates bizarrely he is tasked with collecting a large amount of weed from Mexico and bringing it back to the US in order to settle his debts with a tonally jarring crime lord played by Ed Helms. In order to raise minimal suspicion as he crosses the border David hires himself a family in the form of unemployed stripper Rose (Jennifer Aniston), sweet but neglected Kenny (Will Poulter), and homeless teen Casey (Emma Roberts). The four travel to Mexico in a giant RV and surprisingly few hijinks ensue.

We’re the Millers opens with quite a dark, almost angry, tone with each of the four main characters leading miserable lives and the only laughs coming from the bleakness of their existence, snide asides at one another, and a general sneering attitude towards happy families or anyone with a decent job. You might think that this is a brave choice, that making an essentially joyless comedy might allow it to stand out amongst the general mediocrity of mainstream comedy, but instead it produces a comedy that makes you feel sad and a little bored rather than wanting to laugh out loud.

We're the Millers 1

The first third of the film is relatively uneventful as the Millers (as our faux-family like to be known) make it to Mexico and back with only minor set backs and with any conflict restricting to selfish bickering within the RV. Only once they have the characters back in America do the four (FOUR!!!) screenwriters realise that they need to conjure up some events to stop the film ending after 45 minutes and without anything going wrong. As such the film changes gears so forcibly it’s amazing it doesn’t break down like the Miller’s RV inevitably does (nice simile there).

Suddenly the Millers have driven from their slightly dull but pleasantly dark comedy into a road runner cartoon where a wrench to the face is only a minor inconvenience and any seemingly uptight couples are secretly looking to swing. Plot devices and characters are introduced one at a time to briefly amuse us before being discarded to make room for the next set piece to be awkwardly set up without any real flow in between. With a road trip comedy there is clearly too easy a temptation to essentially make a series of sketches tied together by a quartet of unlikable self-seekers. The result is a film that is far too long (110 minutes!!!), slightly incoherent, and nowhere near funny enough.

We're the Millers 2

I will excuse Will Poulter who played Kenny from my unlikable and unfunny branding as he somehow manages to make his slightly wet character the only sympathetic person on-screen and is the source of the film’s few real laughs. Yes the film had some laughs, and some of them were genuine too. Occasionally though I would find my companion laughing and then looking deeply ashamed at himself. Sometimes in a comedy you laugh because you feel you should, not because anything particularly funny is happening. A portion of the audience at our screening did enjoy the film and a rather well spoken older lady sat behind us did the classic laugh-and-clap at least once. (Pre-screening eavesdropping revealed that she is worried that her lodger has a drinking problem but that’s not for us to worry about now.)

The occasional laugh spread out over 110 minutes is not enough compensation from the sheer boredom the rest of the film brings. The cast do what they can but ultimately there isn’t enough film for them to hold together. Despite being genuinely unpleasant to one another throughout we are encouraged to buy into a sudden shift towards the end that has them seeing themselves as a real family. This conclusion is not justified by anything that precedes it and shows the writers’ complete lack of commitment to any characterisation they could previous have claimed to have achieved.

In summary: Good grief.

We’re the Millers is released in the UK on 23rd August 2013 and frankly you’ve got better things to be doing.

The Hangover Part III – Film Review

The Hangover Part III

Like Einstein, Copernicus and Marie Curie before me; I decided to conduct an experiment. Is it possible to enjoy The Hangover Part III without having seen the first two? Is the rich interplay and nuance between the characters and the intricate nature of the plot possible to understand without detailed study of the original two parts of the franchise – or can you drink a couple of ciders and just go with it?

For those that need to be told, the story picks up a couple of years after the Thailand trip and Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Doug (Justin Bartha) are staging an intervention for Alan (Zach Galifianakis) who has ditched his meds and is acting crazy. As they transport him to a clinic they are forced off of the road by mobsters and forced to find some gold stolen by the flamboyant gangster Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong). They then go on a wacky adventure that takes them back to Vegas (with the terrible line: “One way or another… it all ends here”) as they have to break in multiple places and try to find/follow Chow.

The Hangover Part III - Ken Jeong

All plot aside, and much to my expectation, it was entirely possible to enjoy the film having not bothered with the first two. I’m sure that lots of people will have different views of the film being part of a franchise, but as an objective outsider there was much to love in Part III.

The streets of Leicester Square were lined with curious passers-by and desperate twitterati who were trying to get pictures taken with Heather Graham and Bradley Cooper as well as signing something for eBay. Heather Graham has about 3 minutes of screen time and is only in the film as a token female speaking role – or maybe she was in the film simply to give the red carpet some much-needed glitz…

Obviously, most people who watch this film come primarily for Galifianakis and Jeong. All of the other characters are basically filler until these two get back on the screen. All of the biggest laughs during the screening were from the delivery of lines that would definitely fail from other characters. And of course, there is plenty of slapstick that translates well to foreign audiences. (A particularly funny misjudged leap got the biggest reaction in the cinema…)

The Hangover Part III - Zach Galifianakis

Watching as a Brit it is interesting to note that the successes of these films reflect America’s continuing comfort with discussing drugs. There are so many jokes in here about pills, cocaine, ‘roofies’ and bath salts that there is no denying that we are living through progressive times. On that note, it was amusing to note that none of the audience got the ‘bath salts’ reference, it was lost in translation I guess; so if you want to prepare yourself for that line then familiarize yourself with the Miami zombie story (beware – it’s grizzly).

On the way into the cinema the PR team were handing out hundreds and hundreds of bottles of Budweiser to reaffirm the films status as drinking-game/social event. It occurred to me afterwards that this plan seemed to backfire as everyone around me drank about 6-7 beers and loved every joke in the first half hour, only to slumber into a beer bubble for the rest of the film and not really engage with all of the big laughs. The one exception was the woman who sat next to me, who for some reason had brought her mum with her (who had also not seen the first films). They were laughing at Every. Single. Line. The elderly mum particularly enjoyed the cocaine references for some reason…

The reality is that this film will be huge and will be quoted for a few months, and then slowly discover its places in the lexicon of aging frat-boy comedies having not really offered anything drastically new. But who cares, the film had a shallow purpose and it served it well.