Are You Here (2013) / Comedy-Drama
aka You Are Here
MPAA Rated: R for language, drug use and some sexual content/nudity
Running Time: 112 min.
Cast: Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis, Laura Ramsey, Amy Poehler, Paul Schulze, Alana De La Garza, Lauren Lapkus, Jenna Fischer, Edward Herrmann, Joel Gretsch, Peter Bogdanovich
Director: Matthew Weiner
Screenplay: Matthew Weiner
Review published August 26, 2014
"Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner ventures out into the world of movies for this project that plays like a mish-mash of sitcom comedy and dysfunctional family drama, while never really being a good example of either. Alexander Payne this ain't. There are poignant moments, to be sure, mostly dealing with the subject of conformity, but not nearly enough of them to be able to string viewers along from beginning to end with anything resembling momentum.
Steve Dallas (Wilson, The Internship) is a TV weatherman from Annapolis and off-screen womanizer, whose life is in a state of stagnation, but not nearly as much of a problem as that of his mentally unstable best friend Ben (Galifianakis, Muppets Most Wanted), who spends most of his days getting high and just making life more complicated than he needs. When Ben's wealthy father dies and leaves him the million-dollar family farm and business in rural Pennsylvania, Ben finds he's going to have to actually be responsible for the first time in his life.
Feeling snubbed is Ben's sister Terri (Poehler, They Came Together), who is outraged that the lesser capable party is being given the keys to the kingdom over her, and she makes it her mission to get control of everything their father built out from under him. Meanwhile, the father's much younger and beautiful second wife Angela (Ramsey, The Ruins) sticks around to try to hold things together, though she does catch the eye of Steve, who finds he might have some maturing of his own to do to get her.
The best thing that can be said about Are You Here is that we get two interesting characters to follow, even if the rest of them aren't. The first is that embodied by Zach Galifianakis, whose character arc starts off with his typical stoner-comedy fashion, only to see him mature and deal with the inner demons that are seemingly holding him back into adolescence. Galifianakis is actually nuanced here in a way he rarely gets to show on screen.
The second is the supporting character of Angela, who is grounded in way that makes her character somewhat unique, never really playing into the comedy, but seeing through the goofy charms of others in order to extract the motivating factor behind the irresponsible behavior. Though the film isn't about her, she does manage to hold things together, at least when she's on the screen, which is good because, quite frankly, the rest of the film is an utter mess.
Owen Wilson has proven himself funny in many comedies, and has some dramatic acting chops on display in others, but his performance in this subtle film seems to steamroll over just about every tender moment and understated witticism. It's a lot of loudness in a movie that's crying out for a softer, quieter touch, and the idea that every gorgeous woman finds him irresistible, as presented in this film, seems grossly farfetched. Amy Poehler, who is less experienced in playing in dramas, has no comedic value whatsoever, in the role of a very serious and very determined shrew.
Meanwhile, the seriousness underneath all of the hullabaloo is that Ben suffers from bipolar disorder, and refuses to take medication to stabilize the mood swings that has his life in a perpetual tailspin. Weiner sometimes treats the illness with some modicum of seriousness, which brings forth some interesting moments, but for the most part, it feels like a conflict that never rises to the level of dramatic importance necessary to draw us into his plight.
At nearly two hours in length, Are You Here is a tough slog to get through due to its lack of solid laughs and too many disparate moving parts that keep it from coagulating into a solid form as a drama. Perhaps the film would have been better served by excising the character of Steve altogether, as he's just not interesting or likeable, and the actor playing him can't manage to work into the more subdued thematic material of the rest of the film.
Weiner may have unqualified success drawing out good acting and solid characterizations while in the lengthy form of television drama, but Are You Here (the title was originally You Are Here in festival runs, but its debut on VOD saw a change to a more alphabetically strategic title to be up near the top of the listings) shows that writing for television and writing for the movies are two very different things. If you're going to try to cram a season's worth of characters and plot points into a two-hour span, shortcuts and contrivances are going to be necessary, and characters are going to be underdeveloped and story threads are going to be unresolved.
In other words, its hard to be substantive when the story and its tone are all over the place. Despite some nice moments to admire, by trying to do too much with too little, there's just not enough there in Are You Here.
©2014 Vince Leo