The Women of ‘We’re the Millers': Brats and Strippers

We’re the Millers
When I heard that We’re the Millers was a drug smuggling comedy with a fake family at its center, I knew I would have to check it out. Marijuana has become a trademark of arrested development for men in film, so I was excited to see a comedy that dealt with drug/petty crime issues within the context of a family dynamic, even if they aren’t technically related. Jennifer Aniston’s recent career has been fascinating to me because of how far she continues to go to get away from the Rachel image. Ever since her split from Brad Pitt, it’s apparently been open season for everyone and their mother to talk about how much Aniston fails at womanhood. Every article about her either harps on her looming infertility or bemoans the alleged last dying coughs of her career. It has to be difficult to keep your head up in such an ageist industry while being typecast as the girl-next-door into your 40s. In keeping with that defiance, Aniston plays Rose, a stripper. I have mixed feelings of this as empowering that I’ll get to later.
Emma Roberts delivers consistently good albeit unremarkable performances. We’re the same age, so I remember watching her on Unfabulous and commiserating about middle school angst. I haven’t heard much about her lately. She seems to have skipped the crazy rebel child phase that all the Disney prodigies go through. I googled her before writing this to try and find some relevant links and the only news that popped up was a story about her being denied service after trying to cut a line at a bakery. I’m not kidding. She plays Casey, a runaway teen who starts out as your typical Bratty Teenage Daughter. As for the guys, I’ve found that Jason Sudeikis (David) is a funnier version of Jason Bateman, minus the latter’s dour midlife crisis cynicism. Then there’s Kenny, the obligatory socially inept dork. I’ve never heard of Will Poulter, but he has the weirdest and most immaculately arched eyebrows I’ve ever seen.
(from left to right) Casey, Rose, David and Kenny.
Rose and Casey are established as the brains and common sense to the selfishness of David and the wide-eyed naïveté of Kenny. The women of the ensemble may be smarter, but they are both introduced in the context of their relationship to the male characters. Rose and David resent each other for what initially seems to be unresolved relationship issues given his snide crack at her unseen boyfriend. (Later it’s revealed that the animosity between them stems from David ruining Rose’s favorite painting during a failed first attempt to flirt with her and they were never actually together. I liked that they went out of their way to avoid the cliché, but this is one occasion where the cliché might have made more sense.) Casey is introduced us when Kenny tries to save her from a gang of thugs trying to steal her phone. The gang robs David of his stash instead, prompting the smuggling in order to pay back Brad (Ed Helms), his supplier.
While the selling point of “the Millers” relies on the oddball factor, the film predictably only references Rose and Casey’s past lives to highlight the zaniness of their situation instead of pointing out why a stripper and a homeless girl would be far more willing to risk everything for some drug money. That’s understandable given the genre, but Rose and to a lesser extent Casey are constantly passive aggressively reminded of how useless and expendable they are by David. The insults decrease in proportion to David’s growing affection for them. Why is it that female characters are only respectable to the extent that male characters see fit to humanize them? David calls Rose a cheap stripper for the majority of the film. It’s telling that he and Rose have their first scene of genuine romantic chemistry after Rose admits her real name is Sarah. Strippers clearly aren’t viable romantic options or even real people until they tell you their true identity! Casey is little more than a petulant annoyance until David starts to feel paternalistic towards her. Hell, he even jokes about killing Casey himself as a drug cartel holds a gun to their heads in what is supposed to be the emotional climax of the film.
Rose and David get a little more than they bargained for while camping.
Beyond that, issues of masculinity are fairly banal and played for laughs at the guys’ expense. Nick Offerman delivers a fantastic performance as a big bear of a DEA officer looking to spice up his marriage with his wife through swinging (and hitting on David, no less!). Taking pity on Kenny after witnessing his disastrous attempts to flirt with the swinging couple’s daughter, Melissa, Casey decides to teach him how to kiss. David and Rose walk in and Rose decides that she will also kiss Kenny to help him diversify his technique and then the two women compare notes by trial and error. The result is arguably the funniest scene of the film. Kenny goes back and forth between Casey and Rose in a veritable table tennis of kissing as David provides feedback while lazily munching potato chips. That sort of nerd’s wet dream might be predictable, but the way it’s executed is hilarious. Why else would you put a virgin with a stripper and a streetwise homeless girl? Jennifer Aniston was not pleased. Of course, Melissa comes over at that exact moment to visit Kenny and thinks that she’s stumbled upon foreplay to an incestuous orgy. Given my piece last week, I was relieved that I could laugh at this. At least they’re not actually related this time!
Rose does an impromptu dance in a warehouse.

Rose’s profession inevitably comes in handy during the first action climax. Cornered by the drug cartel, Rose realizes that she’s been passing as a suburban mom a little too well and offers to prove herself by literally stripping for her life. Really, you are lying to yourself if you thought the powers that be would waste any opportunity to showcase Jennifer Aniston’s legs. The ensuing montage is pure wet, slow-motion fan service. The dance ends with Rose releasing a steam valve, disorienting their captors enough to let their “family” escape. I’m torn about this scene because although it’s trying almost too hard to show that strippers can be smart and intuitive, Rose’s most valuable asset is still her body and her ability to be objectified. I take issue not so much the objectification itself so much as the fact that the definitive aspect of Rose’s character seems to be “LOL WHAT 40+ and still hot?!?”. Certainly Aniston’s boldness and athleticism are praiseworthy, but given the amount that the actors talk about it in interviews, you would think the strip routine was her sole appearance.
Will We’re the Millers be remembered as anyone’s iconic role? Probably not. However, it was thoroughly entertaining and ended on an unexpectedly heartwarming note as the Millers start their new life together in the suburbs as part of the witness protection program. Rose and Casey becoming David’s wife and daughter respectively can feel blasé in light of their colorful histories, but all is not quite as it seems The close-up of the marijuana plants growing in the backyard before the cut to the credits indicates that although their hardships may be a thing of the past, their comically gray morality will always be close at hand.