It’s been a while since I saw We’re the Meet the Millers, so I apologise if I get anything wrong, but now is when I feel like writing about it. It’s also why I go on about the spider/testes situation so much, as the film was so middling (originally this was going to be a Mediocri-City article) that though I remember the plot I don’t remember too many specific scenes or jokes beyond that one.
You can’t have it both ways, Hollywood. No, put that wallet away. Money won’t help. It’s not that kind of problem. Yes. No, there are some problems you can’t just throw money at.
I get it. In We’re the/Meet the Millers the joke (and plot) is that they’re dysfunctional drug smugglers pretending to be a family and along the way they gradually start bickering and otherwise acting like a real family and eventually grow to really like and care about each other. It’s an interesting concept and it’s fairly well executed, the performances were good all round.
But you can’t, Millers, pretend to be this in your face, irreverent, Hangover-style comedy yet still try and have ‘heart’ and be all life affirming. And don’t pretend you weren’t trying to be cool, Millers. “Our film’s about weed, guys, weed! And we don’t even really condemn it. And look, this stripper’s nicknamed ‘Boner Garage’ and she thinks it’s cool the seedy manager wants them to sleep with the clients and oh God, you guys, get this: the dumb-but-sweet teenager gets bitten on his balls by a tarantula. His balls! A ta-ran-tu-la! A fuckin’ big-ass-hairy-ass spider bites his fucking testicles, you guys! We even show you the prosthetic for a split second! A joke willy you guys, just like The Hangover did!”
It doesn’t work, Millers, because the two concepts of heart-warming and crude or edgy are opposed. Comedy can come from both. Friends, Dad’s Army and (to use a film) Ferris Bueller’s Day Off are all examples of ‘nice’ comedies, and the humour in these comes from characters and situations. But your characters are nothing special, Millers, and the style of comedy you’re trying to pull off is based largely on schadenfreude and suffering.
There’s nothing wrong with either type of comedy. Neither is inherently better and both can make for great laughs. It’s just it’s not easy to make them gel. Friends might have liked to extract comedy from awkward situations its characters found themselves in occasionally; it might have put them through the emotional pain of break-ups, Minsk, and infertility (though it usually didn’t play them for comedy); but this is hardly a spider to the nutsack. One of the few things I can think of that successfully combines the two sides is Blackadder goes Forth, and that took World War One to do so.
Despite my naming it earlier as the type of ‘irreverent’ comedy Meet the Millers is trying to imitate, The Hangover (as in the first and only good one) is actually quite successful at pulling off the whole ‘crude and crass but with heart’ thing that feels so uncomfortable in Millers. Certainly, after going through the kind of trying ordeals the characters experience in either of these films you’d feel a bond with whoever you went through it with.
Hangover manages it without compromising its overall tone however as its bonding was less of a stretch to begin with. For a start, it’s the bond between male friends rather than becoming a family. Two of the three mains are longstanding friends to begin with, and all three of them know and care about the missing Brad. Perhaps most of all though, while it may be acknowledged the bonding is never dwelt on, and there are certainly no saccharine moments and emotional music.
Ironically for a film that bases one of its comedy sequences around a swollen pair of knackers, The Millers doesn’t have the balls to give us a less than story-book ending in case we leave the cinema feeling some sort of slightly complex emotion. This would, I assume, retroactively confuse our poor little heads and makes us think we didn’t enjoy the film overall, leading to bad word-of-mouth and the film making less money. Playing it safe brings the dollar.
Such it is that by the end the big bad drug lord is arrested and the smugglers are all playing happy families in the suburbs.
The edgy/safe contrast doesn’t work because it feels forced, makes the film seem ‘manufactured’, which I guess in this context means a labour of profit, not of love.
Of course all Hollywood—even that considered ‘art’, the Oscar-winners and such—is manufactured to some extent, but the trick these days is in hiding it. For most of the film things hadn’t been too bad, the ‘Millers’’ growing fondness had been gradual, proportional and reasonably organic; but oh god the ending is, to quote my notes exactly “the fucking twee-est thing ever and contrived as fuck”. Sticking that on to the end shatters any illusion your film wasn’t ultimately designed by committee, regardless of how it started.