We’re the Millers Movie Review 1 156

Another entry into the potty-mouthed Hollywood comedy that has become trendy as of late, We’re the Millers functions as a series of well-performed gross-out and profanity-laden jokes tied loosely together by a simple plot that Cheech & Chong wouldn’t look out of place tied up in.

The film centres on David Clark (Jason Sudeikis), a pot dealer who is ordered by his nefarious boss (Ed Helms) to travel down to Mexico and smuggle back a “smidgen and a half” of drugs and bring it back by a certain time. Realizing he would get stopped if he travelled by himself, David comes up with a plan to create a fake family – made up of stripper Rose (Jennifer Aniston), teen runaway Casey (Emma Roberts) and unsuspecting neighbour Kenny (Will Poulter) – on a pretend vacation in an RV.

We’re the Millers succeeds at what it’s aiming to do largely on the strength of its well placed cast. Yes, Sudeikis is stepping into a role that readily could have been filled by Jason Bateman but his snide remarks and comic timing more than does the job. Similarly Roberts, whose “I don’t give a damn” teen runaway provides an amusing counterpoint to the controlling head of the family who just wants to get the job done.

Aniston is channeling more of the Horrible Bosses vibe, once again going against the good girl Friends persona she was so long known for. Though the film’s leering attitude towards her is arguably gimmicky and unnecessary – a scene, I suppose you would call it a set-piece, sees her stripping in front her newfound family and a drug lord in an auto-repair shop – she’s clearly having a lot of fun doing it and she’d probably embrace that sort of criticism rather than shun it. The racy nature of the role is doubtless why she signed on.

However, the real stand out is Poulter, a Brit utterly convincing as an American teen, with pitch-perfect comic timing and some of the best scenes in the whole film; one in particular that will make people who are Arachnophobic and generally men everywhere squirm in their seats as it attempts to rival the famous zipper scene from There’s Something About Mary. Even though he’s hitherto an unknown to most US audiences, he’s been impressing over here in the UK from his first ever role in the terrific Son of Rambow onwards, finally solidifying himself as a young British talent to watch after his brilliant performance in last year’s Wild Bill. With this, it seems, he’s found US comedy very well and long may it continue.

Director Rawson Marshall Thurber (who made the endlessly rewatchable silly-fest that is Dodgeball) has delivered a film that flits between shock-value sight gags, pop culture references, drug and sexual humour almost with arms flailed. As it does when it remembers there’s actually supposed to be a plot that needs sticking to, into which it throws some requisite ham-fisted sentimentality about how they’ve grown to be a dysfunctional family that just happens not to be related.

It’s nothing you haven’t seen before, hitting certain generic beats in almost checklist-ticking fashion along its journey; they meet another, weirder family (headed by Parks and Recreation stars Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn) while on the road and misunderstandings ensue, for example. But it’s crucially chucklesome throughout and provides some stand out moments involving a great cast that ultimately make this road-trip comedy work despite its flaws.

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I’m a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features.

I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

1 Comment

  1. Good review Ross. Not hilarious, but still funnier than I expected. With that idea in minds, it’s pretty much a rental, especially if you want a couple of laughs.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 416

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 448

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10