We're The Millers currently falls behind Elysium as this weekend's most profitable theatrical release on the current box office charts. Right now, it's America's most recent — and profitable — slapstick blockbuster. Although the comedy initially intends to challenge America's perceptions of white privilege and female sexuality, don't be so easily fooled; We're The Millers fall short of its potential and furthermore defines the boundaries of race and gender in contemporary cinema of popular culture.
There's blatant racial and gender problems tackled and exemplified in several scenes, yet the audience still laughs. Clearly, such issues seem to be mostly disregarded to the majority of audiences, because neither race nor gender seem to challenge anything beyond the laughter. The film doesn't make the audience think about why they are laughing. Now, is the audience or the movie-makers to blame? That's up to you to decide, but before anyone starts to point fingers here, let me elaborate.
Firstly, the plot orients around a road trip to smuggle drugs in an RV. David, the pot-dealing protagonist played by Jason Sudeikis, gets robbed of his secret stash and savings. In order to pay off his debt from his (also drug-dealing) boss, he has to pick up an order in Mexico. The order happens to be a few tons of marijuana, nonetheless.
So how exactly does drug smuggling across an international border work? David develops a supposedly infallible scheme to create a fake family to avoid vehicle inspection at the barrier line. Thus, he recruits a female neighbor, a polished-looking 18-year-old, and a homeless-by-supposed-choice teenager obsessed with her iPhone to pass as a traditional American nuclear family and eventually, successfully pass the border in the RV with an absurd amount of marijuana. It isn't a coincidence that the family is played by an all-white cast, but this was fairly predictable. What's more important is not that the cast was actually white at all, but rather, how predictably the Millers get across the border without inspection. White privilege may be seen inevitably in film and everyday life, but We're The Millers sets the stage to showcase and applaud it.
So here's some food for thought: Would the plot have gone differently if a well-dressed, all-white cast didn't portray the Millers?
Jennifer Aniston's character, Rose, initially is introduced as a stripper with a cold personality. What other way to introduce an independent and self-sufficient woman than a bitter one that undresses for the opposite sex to earn a living wage? In no way am I shaming stripping as a profession, but the filmmakers could have chosen a different job title — teacher, firefighter, cashier, cab driver — than one so evidently concentrated on female sexuality.
Anyway, there are a few times where Rose saves the day when the man of the story can't: when she finally agrees to be the pretend wife, when she performs a strip tease to distract the bad guys, and when she finally falls in love with her partner-in-crime ... not that you saw that coming or anything. So think about this: Why couldn't Rose be the drug dealer and David the stripper? How and why wouldn't this have the same effect in a weekend blockbuster?
Undeniably, the film has already become embedded into our nation's popular culture despite how it addresses race and gender. That is not at all surprising, unfortunately, even in 2013. There are plenty of movies released each year that incorporate societal stereotypes about race and gender, but that's not my point. We're The Millers had the potential to challenge the structure of modern film. Perhaps Rose could have been the drug dealer and David the stripper; maybe the family could have been played by non-white actors and actresses. Instead, the comedy chose to subscribe to the Hollywood norm and further define the boundary of race and gender.