David Clark is livin' the dream.
As a petty drug dealer, he goes to work when he pleases. He doesn't need to shave or even shower. He has no responsibilities (except to his suppliers) and no attachments (except to his debts). "You could disappear and no one would even know!" an old college bud says, turning ever so slightly green with envy. Ah, to live a life of hazy aimlessness. Isn't that what our founding fathers envisioned for all of us?
Alas, there is not a lot of financial security for anyone these days, much less petty drug underlords. David keeps all his drug money—his life savings—in a duffel bag. A duffel bag that gets pilfered by a band of unsavory hooligans. And David suddenly finds that he's lost in the weeds. But not so lost that his angry supplier, Brad Gurdlinger, can't find him.
"You know I've killed people before, right?" Brad says, a killer whale ominously floating in the guy's outrageously huge fish tank.
Brad isn't actually ready to kill David … yet. Seems he's got a "little smidge" of marijuana he needs to have picked up south of the border, and David might be just the mule for the job. If David can pick up the pot and bring it back, Brad'll be happy to forgive all past debts and even pay him an extra $100,000. No problem.
Well, maybe a little problem. David looks like … a drug dealer. Border guards would probably smell a ruse (among a few other odors) from all the way across the Rio Grande.
David will need to clean himself up and get himself a "family"—one so neat and clean and Flanders-like that the cops won't suspect a thing. 'Course, he doesn't know any families, and it's not like they sell them at the Dollar Store. He realizes it'll have to be a mix-and-match affair.
First he drafts Kenny, his 18-year-old neighbor who already looks the part. They rope in Casey, a much-pierced runaway who could use a little cash. And who should be the matriarch of this fictional clan? Well, no one else will do but neighbor (and experienced stripper) Rose.
"I'm not buying you!" David tells her. "I'm renting you!"
One small obstacle: Rose pretty much loathes the mere sight of David. But when the woman quits her stripping job and finds an eviction notice on her door, she realizes that maybe it'd be OK to put up with the guy for a weekend (as long as the price is right).
And so the four new "family" members head south to pick up their primo package, looking forward to the day and the hour when they can go their separate ways again. They wouldn't want to make a habit of hanging out together.
It's obvious that We're the Millers is not a suitable template to illustrate traditional family values. The words mom and dad should not be synonymous with stripper and drug dealer. But these characters are not as immoral as they could be. David makes it clear that he doesn't sell drugs to children, for instance. And when Kenny tries to save a girl from attackers, David jumps in to rescue both of them. Rose, meanwhile, draws a heavy line between stripping and prostitution: She quits when her boss says that his girls will have to start sleeping with clients.
And as all these folks travel together, they realize that maybe their pre-smuggling lives weren't all that great. David and Rose grow more protective of Kenny and Casey. Runaway Casey sees the attraction of having a mom and dad. Awkward Kenny, whose own mother apparently ran away from him, discovers he's a part of a group that thinks he's pretty cool and cares about him. David even grows to appreciate the square, RV-driving families he used to mock.
[Spoiler Warning] By the end, of course, the "Millers" do form a family of sorts. And while the road to this realization is rocky for all (and marred by several detours), they wind up making the right decisions for themselves and others. The bad guys get their nonlethal comeuppance, too. Oh, and the drugs wind up in the appropriate authorities' hands.
Faking it up good, Rose gathers her new brood for "prayer time" in the back of a plane—asking for a safe flight and blessings on all the passengers, "even the Jews." A flight attendant compliments her praying prowess.
We see Rose dancing in skimpy black lingerie, then primping herself after a performance. She advises a young newcomer wearing equally provocative clothes—and who pulls down her panties part way to reveal a crude, sexually themed tattoo. When the strip club's manager tells the women they'll be expected to have sex with the clients, Rose quits, but the other girl seems excited about the prospect.
Rose gives David a brusque lap dance. And she performs for a drug lord as a distraction, taking off her clothes to showcase (and sensually tug at) her revealing underwear.
David and Rose accidentally suggest to another couple that they're swingers, and the resulting situation features something of an awkward encounter between the two women and the two men. One woman touches the other's breasts, for instance. Casey volunteers to teach Kenny how to kiss. They're practicing when Rose and David return, and Rose promptly offers to help as well. The two women then take turns kissing Kenny, teaching him various techniques—until a stranger walks in and sees what would seem to be an incestuous threesome.
A Mexican police officer wants to be bribed with homosexual oral sex. People graphically describe their sexual and biological issues. A visual joke is made about masturbation. References are made to anal sex, sex education, menstrual cycles and vibrators. Brad carves an ice sculpture showing a whale and a man in what seems to be an affectionate embrace. Someone draws a picture of a penis. We see girls in bikinis.
After a spider bites Kenny on his scrotum, he drops his trousers for both his new family and the camera, revealing a swollen testicle and other parts of his anatomy. (Casey later posts video of the event on YouTube where it goes viral.) Kenny accidentally pushes his face into Rose's breasts. But when a carnival guy tries to get fresh with Casey, her new family rescues her.
David smacks someone in the face with a huge wrench and is, in turn, hit himself. The RV the "family" drives hits a person, smashes a sports car and careens off an embankment.
Several people are threatened with guns. David's beaten and kicked by thugs and threatened with a knife. A drug henchman gets beaten up too. Border guards clobber a man carrying a marijuana joint and shoot at Mexicans trying to enter the United States. Kenny and Rose both hit people in the face—in one case drawing blood.
David lands hard on a dumpster lid. Kenny's thrown out of a wheelchair. Brad's killer whale chomps down on another fish (leaving a bloody wake). Someone's hand is broken in a fight. Rose sprays a drug lord's face with hot steam. A joking reference is made to suicide.
Crude or Profane Language
More than 110 f-words and 30 s-words. Jesus' name is abused four times (once with an f-word), and God's is misused more than 30, merged at least eight times with "d‑‑n." We hear "a‑‑," "b‑‑ch," "d‑‑n," "h‑‑‑" and "d‑‑k," too. Obscene hand gestures are made five or six times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
We see David carrying his small stash of "merchandise" in a duffel bag (different pot products often given vulgar names). He visits a huge Mexican marijuana warehouse, and hundreds of kilos are packed in the Millers' RV, filling every spare nook and cranny.
One drug brick falls out of a compartment above the passenger seat, and Rose quickly wraps it in a blanket. When that little bundle is mistaken for a baby, Rose begins cradling it, calling it LeBron and trying to keep up with yet another lie for a good chunk of the film. At one point she tosses her little loaf into the road, where it's run over (to the horror of onlookers).
We see David sell and sometimes give away marijuana, and we learn that Rose's boyfriend once borrowed some from him. Later, it appears that marijuana is growing in the Millers' garden. But despite all these piles of pot, we never see anyone smoke the stuff.
Drug dealers do smoke cigars and cigarettes and drink cocktails.
What is life? What're we here to do, anyway?
We're the Millers, in its own silly and salacious way, asks this provocative question. In the midst of all the sex and drugs and 100 f-words, it wants us to ponder the meaning of family, of connection and of life itself.
I was joking, of course, in my introduction when I said that David was livin' the dream. But only half so. Because for a growing number of people, it would seem, David's life may indeed look appealing. Some of us long to live a life that is unanswerable to anyone—free of responsibility, free of any real care. And if life does get to be a downer, well, David carries a temporary cure right there in his bag.
To some extent, all four "Millers" are living this sort of life. Runaway Casey subsists on the streets. Rose has a job (of sorts) but seems to lack any real connection to anyone. Kenny puts on a brave face about having the apartment to himself after his mother leaves him.
They live in freedom, more or less. And yet we see that all, underneath, are deeply unhappy. Turns out, they don't need freedom, they need connection, they need the cords and bonds that tie us to one another. These bonds always come with responsibility, of course. When we form relationships with people, we'll be asked to be there for them when it's not convenient, to do things for them we might not want to do. We're called to sacrifice for one another. And as this movie rolls on down its dusty, grimy road, we see something a little amazing—countercultural even. We see that it's those bonds and sacrifices that make life worth living.
That positivity, when it comes to family and connection and meaning, is a nice nugget to find in We're the Millers.
But while its heart may be in the right place, the rest of this flick's body is rolling around in the proverbial gutter, wallowing in sex and profanity and drugs. While David, Rose and their new "kids" have found a sense of meaning at the end of the journey, the film itself seems to have stayed lost in the wilderness. It wanders on, looking for joy in all the wrong places—forgetting that its own characters have already found what they needed.