In an early scene in the rollicking new comedy We’re the Millers, Jennifer Aniston yanks off most of her clothes to perform a strip tease. As Rose O’Reilly, an exotic dancer roped into a drug-smuggling scheme by her petty criminal neighbor David Clark (Jason Sudeikis) and two teens posing as their kids (Emma Roberts and Will Poulter), Ms. Aniston oozes sleazy sexiness even when pretending to be the white-bread mother of the clan.
Which makes you wonder: where has that sexy been all these years? For Jennifer Aniston, playing the nice one—Rachel from Friends, more or less—has formed a career trajectory, both in films and in her public persona. From Office Space to Bruce Almighty to Marley & Me, Ms. Aniston has projected an image of wholesomeness, of being The Good Girl, and has let the sex appeal—and, often, the funnier roles—fall to other actresses.
Recently, however, there has been a glimmer of hope for the emergence of a sexier, more offbeat Aniston. In a memorable episode of 30 Rock, she guest-starred as Liz and Jenna’s friend Claire, “the crazy one,” who entrances their boss Jack Donaghy with her quirky personality and near-manic
randiness. And there was 2005’s Derailed, and then 2011’s Horrible Bosses (which also starred Mr. Sudeikis), in which Ms.
Aniston once again played against type, this time a sexually manipulative dentist. Millers continues this fine tradition of casting Ms. Aniston, now 44, as a ball-busting babe—and it’s something we’re hoping to see more of.
As for the rest of the film, it traffics in the kind of facile zaniness you’d expect from a late-summer comedy: cult celebrity cameos (Ed Helms, Parks & Recreation’s Nick Offerman, Ken Marino, Scott Adsit, Thomas Lennon, Luis Guzmán) and raunchy humor (spider bites on private parts, a wrapped-up bag of marijuana being mistaken for a swaddled baby.)
Mr. Sudeikis is miscast as the deadbeat low-tier drug dealer (otherwise known, in the movie’s harebrained fake-family plot, as Dad). He is consistently funny, but he’s too clean-cut to pull off a slacker pot dealer. Unlike his Hall Pass co-star Owen Wilson, he has never figured out how to temper his natural smugness into a hangdog appeal.
If there is a breakout role in Millers, it is that of Will Poulter, the 20-year-old English actor who played Lee Carter in 2007’s Son of Rambow. As Kenny Rossmore, the hapless neighbor who ends up playing the teenage son of Ms. Aniston and Mr. Sudeikis during their version of National Lampoon’s Mexican Vacation, Mr. Poulter strikes a perfect comedic balance between sweet savant and pop-culture lech. Here, finally, is a character the audience can identify with, especially in a scene where Mr. Sudeikis smacks his fake son upside the head to stop him from ogling his exotic-dancing “mom,” in one of this frothy movie’s better moments. “Have some respect,” he mutters. “That’s your mother.”
WE’RE THE MILLERS
WRITTEN BY: Bob Fisher, Steve Faber, Sean Anders and John Morris
DIRECTED BY: Rawson Marshall Thurber
STARRING: Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis and Emma Roberts
RUNNING TIME: 110 mins.