This Isn't Mad Men
Certain films seem to have it made based on who’s involved, and Are You Here is one such movie. Written and directed by Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, and starring Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis and Amy Poehler, it features the kind of juggernaut team that could do quality work in their sleep.
Unfortunately, the movie never gets off the ground, mostly due to reasons that can only be attributed to Weiner. The story follows Steve Dallas (Wilson), a local weatherman and overall ne’er-do-well whose life is stuck in neutral because of his lack of ambition.
The film is ostensibly a comedy, but only because there are three comedic actors in the main roles. Judging on its merits, it’s difficult to know what to call it.
His best friend, Ben (Galifianakis), is a big-time mental case only Steve can handle. When Ben’s father dies, Steve accompanies him to the funeral to help deal with Ben’s sister, Terri (Poehler); an inheritance hearing; and Ben’s irrational behavior.
The film is ostensibly a comedy, but it’s likely only labeled that because there are three comedic actors in the main roles. Judging on its merits, it’s difficult to know what to call it. There’s way too much pontification going on for a comedy, and there’s not nearly enough serious stuff going on to call it a drama. But “dramedy” is a term that doesn’t seem to fit, either.
Part of the problem is that it feels like every fourth page of Weiner’s script is missing. The story makes a sense to a degree, but nothing ever quite connects. Weiner can’t decide who the main character is, so we’re left with a series of scenes that could’ve been profound if we actually got to know either Steve or Ben.
Relationships of all shapes and sizes fail to make sense, starting with Steve and Ben’s friendship. We get the impression they grew up together, but it’s never explicitly stated. Steve’s series of flings offer a flimsy excuse to shoehorn nudity into the film. And the continued presence of Angelina (Laura Ramsey), the young widow of Ben’s father, offers little in terms of the narrative.
Then there are artsy moments that make it feel as if Weiner has let Mad Men go to his head. He stays on certain shots a bit too long for them to have been a mistake, but only Weiner knows if they contain symbolism or even overt meanings.
Despite all of the film’s faults, the acting keeps it somewhat afloat. Although Wilson and Galifianakis don’t make a great team, their individual moments have some charm. Poehler is stuck in a one-note role, but she makes the best of it. And even though Ramsey’s character is a strange presence, her ethereal demeanor makes it a memorable one.
Are You Here, which is Weiner’s film debut, shows that his talents may lie more in television than movies. It’s a close-to-pointless journey that probably should have been left unexplored.