One of these things is not like the other: We’re The Millers and Virginity

The poster for We’re the Millers tells us something interesting and weird about the way Hollywood conceives of male virginity.

I was probably a little more optimistic than I should have been about We’re the Millers. I dunno, the concept is funny, right? A drug dealer hires a bunch of rejects to pose as a wholesome family on a road trip, to avoid getting searched at the border? But really, I should have known. About half of the trailer was devoted to a Jennifer Aniston striptease, and although she’s a fine comic actress, the last movie to market itself primarily on her anatomy, The Break-Up, has a score of 34% on Rotten Tomatoes. (We’re the Millers clocks in at a relatively healthy 42%.)

But anyway, I’m not really here to talk about We’re the Millers, which I haven’t even seen yet. Rather, I’m here to talk about its poster…


…which confuses the hell out of me.

Okay, so Jason Sudeikis, the “dad,” is actually a drug dealer. Jennifer Aniston, the “mom,” is actually a stripper. Emma Roberts, his “daughter,” is a runaway gutter punk. And Will Poulter, his “son,” is actually… a virgin? Wait, what?

The whole concept here is that each of them is pretending to be something they’re not. And for Sudeikis, Aniston, and Roberts, this makes sense, because our concepts of “dad,” “mom,” and “daughter” are incompatible with our concepts of “drug dealer,” “stripper,” and “runaway.” This is already kind of hilarious, because drug dealers and strippers are certainly capable of having children, and every female runaway is somebody’s daughter. But logical or not, that’s what these concepts mean in our culture. So the joke works. But the concepts of “son” and “virgin” are not opposed in the same way. Kids that age are supposed to be virgins! Aren’t they?

And note that the “virgin” thing isn’t just a weird wording choice on this one poster. There’s a whole integrated marketing campaign based around the idea that he must be only posing as a son, because, as we all know, every real son has hella sex. That makes no sense at all, prolific L.A. design firm Cold Open! What the hell, prolific L.A. design firm Cold Open?



I can think of two obvious explanations for this.

  1. The people at Cold Open had the most messed up childhoods imaginable.
  2. Poulter’s character in this film is so thinly sketched, so weakly and poorly conceived, that “virgin” is his only distinguishable character trait.

Probably the second one, right? And yet there’s a third, slightly less obvious possibility, which is that “virgin,” in this context, doesn’t mean quite what we think it means.

Okay, so as mentioned above, the trailer contains a sequence where Jennifer Aniston shows off what a lot of people have been calling her “stripper body” (where by “a lot of people,” I mean style columnists churning out all of those faintly gross “how Jennifer Aniston got her stripper body” articles, which I guess are aimed at women who already look like Jennifer Aniston normally does, and want to kick it up yet another notch?) Anyway. The punchline of that scene, such as it is, shows Poulter staring slack jawed at her routine and rubbing his crotch. Sudeikis rebukes him with a swat to the head. “Have some respect, that’s your mother!” Call this data point number one.

Data point number two is that there’s apparently a scene where Poulter has to make out with both Aniston and his “sister” Emma Roberts. I’m sure that within the world of the film, this has some justification… maybe they’re trying to convince some third party that they aren’t really related. Maybe they just smoke the whole Winnebago-full of weed, and get carried away. But whatever the pretext, the real reason to put a scene like this in is to present us with the sin-free version of a very sinful spectacle. It’s the, like, Olestra, “I Can’t Believe it’s Not Incest!™” version of Jaime and Cersei Lannister.

So it’s not quite correct to say that Poulter’s character has no defining trait other than virginity. He’s kind of a giant horndog, right? Or perhaps it’s better to say that the hollywood version of male virginity is defined not by the mere fact of not having had sex, but by an all-consuming and thoroughly indiscriminate drive to have sex. Like Jason Biggs and Dan Monahan before him, Poulter, in his role as the designated virgin, casts his genetic material about with all the verve and single-mindedness, and all the discretion, of a Bonobo on amyl nitrate. That’s what we are to read into the “virgin” moniker — otherwise it makes no sense at all. And clearly, that’s what “son” is meant to rule out, because the strictures of the nuclear family are supposed to protect his mother and sister from that seething tornado of lust. But what the film is actually telling us is that, just like some mothers are strippers, and some fathers actually do deal drugs, some sons are… well, virgins, in that very particular, voracious, indiscriminate, Hollywood kind of way.

15 Comments on “One of these things is not like the other: We’re The Millers and Virginity”

  1. Rhys #

    In its version of the main poster, the UK poster swapped “Kenny” for “Virgin.” It also swapped “Hellraiser” for “Runaway.” “Stripper” and “Drug Dealer” are the same. I’m not sure if there is another UK poster that says, “A KENNY, POSING AS A SON.” But that the UK team could only come up with “Kenny” for his trait does suggest that maybe the character doesn’t have much going on.


    • An Inside Joke #

      Forgive me for my ignorance, but is Kenny a SouthPark reference (i.e. the sex-obsessed boy from the show) or some British slang I’m unfamiliar with?


      • Richard #

        I know that among Japanese giant monster movie fans, it is customary to refer to the character of an annoying young boy who typically wears uncomfortably small shorts as a “Kenny”. I’m not certain as to where the term originates.


      • Rhys #

        It’s the name of his character, which means they just couldn’t come up with anything for him.


    • lofgren #

      I really like the idea of replacing “Virgin” with the character’s name.

      It makes it seem like you have these three outcasts who live on the fringes of society for very specific reasons, and then you have Kenny. Kenny isn’t a stripper. He isn’t a drug dealer. He isn’t a runaway. But we don’t know what he is, just that he’s something, and that is very creepy and disturbing.

      There are two possibilities that jump immediately to mind.

      One is that he is like the blonde daughter on the Munsters, this one inexplicably completely normal person who has fallen in with these utter weirdos and nobody knows why or how. Basically he would be the straight man, a wholesome kid who actually comes from a stereotypical middle class family of the type the rest of the characters are pretending to be. He could be like their coach and guide, trying to rein in their obviously outrageous behavior by giving them pointers on what happy, well adjusted families are actually like.

      The other is that he is a rank psycho serial killer who murders puppies and eats babies.


    • Patrick #

      It’s interesting that the US and UK posters are different, because the same thing happened with another Jennifer Aniston movie, Horrible Bosses.

      In the US poster, the three characters portrayed by Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston and Colin Farrell are listed in order as:


      while in the UK it’s


      Is Nympho unfamiliar to US audiences, or considered offensive there? Or is Maneater less familiar in the UK? Who knows?


  2. Gab #

    I’d also guess that he’s a horn-dog and that having to act like a virgin is part of why he spews everywhere in the movie (if he does- I’m guessing he does, like you do). The first time I saw the poster, aside from internally raging at how this is an example of the mixed messages teenagers are sent about sexuality and personal image, I came up with a backstory for him involving lots of sexual partners until he ends up taking this job. The job forces him to not have the sex he’s used to, which intensifies his usual horn-dog nature and makes keeping his role up (ZING!) all that much more difficult- hence his inability to remain entirely in-character when his “mom” is jiggling around.

    If you see it, please, oh please, write a follow-up.


  3. Richard #

    Knowing very little about the movie, I have two comments on the use of the term “Virgin” in the poster.

    The first is the insinuation that being a virgin is somehow on the same social level as being a drug dealer or a stripper. I must strenuously disagree with that. I know several people who are virgins, and if you are going to insult a two-year-old in such a manner, I am going to have to ask you to step outside. The idea that having never had sexual relations somehow makes you a pariah is an idea that can only come up in Hollywood’s bizarre view of the world.

    The second is more subtle. It’s that people who do not conform to Hollywood’s standards of attractiveness cannot possibly have anything resembling a happy, fulfilling sex life. Of the four people in the poster, who is the least “attractive”? Right, the kid with the weird eyebrows, awkward smile, and hand gesture that could be a clumsy wave, an “I didn’t do it!”, or a “Don’t hit me!”.

    They should have referred to him as a “Nerd”, “Dork”, or “Geek”. Or even better, the inoffensively generic “Loser”.


  4. Crystal #

    Note that the young male character is considered an outcast for not having sex while the middle aged female character is an outcast for working in the sex industry. Because it’s weird if a young man doesn’t have all the sex and horrible if an older woman expresses her sexuality.


    • Stokes OTI Staff #

      I wonder if the stripper thing has more to do with class than with sex. There are certain kinds of women who trade on their sexuality who don’t get excluded from motherhood in the same way, right? Like, take Angelina Jolie, who is certainly a talented actress but also CERTAINLY a sex symbol. Or take an A-list lingerie model. Neither of these has the same aura of tawdriness as a stripper does (and neither would be labeled as part of the “sex industry” in quite the same way), but certainly both make their living by selling their sexiness… and somehow “a Victoria’s Secret model, posing as a mom” doesn’t carry the same weight.

      If I imagine someone introducing themselves to me as a stripper, I imagine myself reacting by thinking “Wow, that must not have been your first choice. What went wrong in your life to bring you to this?” Now, that’s a TERRIBLE thing to think! And I would slap myself down, mentally, for thinking it. But I think that I would think it, nonetheless, and I think that it’s a pretty common thing to think, and I think that’s more the energy that the poster is capitalizing on. Your thoughts?


      • Gab #

        I think it’s more an intersectional problem- as in it’s both at the same time (a sex and class thing), and the two kind of amplify one another. There are cultural stereotypes being harped on by the writers, and I have no doubt they’re alluding to the “fallen mother” one, where the destitute mother would do anything to take care of her child, including sell her body. And while I know there are male strippers, and I’m sure some of them end up in the same situations as myriad women, there isn’t nearly as pervasive of a cultural image of a poor male stripper trying to feed his baby than a poor woman stripper trying to feed her baby.

        Now, if the fake son had actually been the stripper, and the fake mom was something else, something more traditionally masculine, like, I dunno, loan shark, that could have been pretty interesting, and an opportunity to subvert expectations in some pretty clever ways. But I don’t think the writers are going for any real sophisticated sociopolitical commentary, here (that’s your job!).


      • Crystal #

        I think it matters that she is a stripper specifically. The cultural attitudes about strippers seem to be that they only pretend to like their customers. They give lap dances but don’t have sex with customers. Customers don’t “get something” for their money.

        I think it also matters that Aniston is in her 40s. A 20 year old stripper is to be expected, excused away by youth. A 40 year old stripper is sad, has been, never going to find a real job.

        I imagine it is scary to middle aged white men, the idea of a woman in her 40s, totally in charge of her sexuality and using it for profit.

        As far as the class issue goes, I think that is a part of it. Certainly, people think more of “upscale” escorts than street walkers, but I think the one to one interaction with a customer puts strippers and prostitutes in a different league than lingerie models or even porn actors.


  5. lofgren #

    I don’t know what it is like to be a 20-something virgin (I’m guessing the character is actually intended to be a 20-something who is pretending to be a teenager), but I imagine you would feel a bit like an outcast a lot of the time.

    On average most people in America lose their virginity around 17, so most of your peers (depending on your social circle) have probably had sex (or are lying about it). Our culture is positively saturated in sex and it seems to be a pretty basic assumption that you’ll have done it at least once in either college or high school. And that’s a pretty safe guess, statistically. I definitely feel like my attitude towards sex changed dramatically after I had it for the first time when I was 16 and then again when I started having it regularly. It was much more of a preoccupation before I’d actually experienced it, and I had lost my virginity at an age that our culture considers appropriate. I can only imagine how awkward I would feel if I spent another four years trying and failing to get laid. Maybe a virgin is not a social pariah, but I’ll bet a lot of them feel like it. (And a poster like this isn’t going to help.)


    • Stokes OTI Staff #

      I think you have put your finger on it, lofgren. The assumption is that a virgin has, like a drug dealer or a runaway, somehow failed at life.

      Two interesting points, though:
      1) You don’t mention your gender, but am I wrong in guessing you are male? I feel like the unwritten rules are still different for girls (although I really, REALLY don’t know… I never got to experience that particular socialization).

      2) You lost your virginity “at an age that our culture considers appropriate,” but note that it’s also at an age that’s illegal in roughly half of the American states, according to the creepiest wikipedia page. Society is incoherent on this point (and I think that those contradictions are also something that people internalize and struggle with).


      • lofgren #

        I wouldn’t use the term “failed at life.” More just out of step with your peers in an undesirable way. The entire premise of the Millers is built on a desire to conform. Most of the audience of this film have not been strippers, drug dealers, or runaways, but they have had sex. The message of the story is, well, your life might feel like it sucks and you might feel insecure about something in your life, but, look, these people are even more atypically screwed up than you are and they can find happiness in a simulated nuclear family. Virgins are going to feel like outsiders to our culture because so much of our culture assumes that you have had sex in order to relate to the pop song/sitcom/movie star gossip.

        I am a male and I think the expectations are slightly different for females, but not a whole lot. The average age that girls lose their virginity is only slightly older than the average age for males. TV still assumes that any girl older than 17 or so is having or at least has had sex.

        As for the illegality, a lot of those states have laws that recognize that teenagers have sex by including an age gap. It’s legal for a 16 year old to have sex with another 16 year old, but not for a 19 year old to have sex with a 16 year old. But aside from that, I think socially appropriate and legal are two different things. It’s socially appropriate to smoke some pot in college, but it’s not legal. It’s socially appropriate to have a few beers before you’re 21, even get blackout drunk a few times, but it’s not legal. It’s legal for a twenty-eight year old financially secure childless married woman to get an abortion, but it’s not socially appropriate. I don’t think the laws and the social expectations of our culture will ever fully align and I don’t think it’s really a significant source of angst for most people.


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