Directed by: Matthew Weiner.
Written by: Matthew Weiner.
Starring: Owen Wilson (Steve Dallas), Zach Galifianakis (Ben Baker), Amy Poehler (Terry Coulter), Laura Ramsey (Angela Baker), Paul Schulze (Dave Harken), Alana De La Garza (Victoria Riolobos), Lauren Lapkus (Delia Shepard), Greg Cromer (Kyle Robertson), Edward Herrmann (Dr. Vincent), Peter Bogdanovich (Judge Harlan Plath), Jenna Fischer (Alli), Melissa Rauch (Marie).
Even extremely talented people can sometimes take a big swing and a miss on a project. What is most surprising about Matthew Weiner’s Are You Here – the feature directing debut by the creator of Mad Men is that it doesn’t even feel like the work of the same man. It feels like a very lazy comedy that could have been churned out by practically any hack in Hollywood – at least until the ending that tries for profundity and comes up way short. The hallmark of Mad Men has been well drawn characters – both male and female – and none of the characters in Are You Here are well drawn in the least – and the female characters are downright insulting. In short, nothing works in Are You Here – and what’s worse, is that I don’t see how anyone could have thought different.
The film stars Owen Wilson as Steve Dallas – a TV weatherman somewhere in small-town USA. He is a shallow, womanizing, pothead whose (only) friend is Ben (Zach Galifianakis) – and even bigger stoner, who lives on Steve's couch, works on his book – which all evidence suggests is basically a bunch of insane, paranoid ramblings about the government and society. When Ben hears his father has died – he and Steve take a (short) road trip to their hometown, which neither has been to in years. There they meet up with Ben’s uptight sister, Terry (Amy Poehler) and their hippie stepmother, Angela (Laura Ramsey) – who appears to be younger than either of the siblings. Much to Terry’s chagrin – since she was running all the family businesses – their father has left almost his entire estate to Ben – who plans on using it to reshape society in his earth first vision. Angela gets nothing – but she says that was her wish all along.
If there is one interesting thing in Are You Here, it is the depiction of Ben – who at first seems like yet another cinematic man child – who we are all supposed to find lovable in their immaturity. But that isn’t the way the movie – eventually – sees Ben. Ben isn’t just another irresponsible, stoner man child in the Adam Sandler or Judd Apatow mode – but a man who is clearly inflicted with some kind of mental illness – who struggles with whether or not to get help, and who by the end may not be in a much better place than he was at the beginning.
This is the most interesting thing about the movie – and even that seems more like a half formed idea, than fully thought through – and spends most of the time in the background of the movie anyway. Most of the movie is about Wilsons Steve – who is much more of the shallow, man child that American comedies still to love so much. He’s an asshole at the beginning of the film – and makes some very small steps throughout the movie to be less of one. Much of the movie is about his burgeoning relationship with Angela – which is odd because she starts out hating him, and when she starts to fall for him he is still the same, superficial asshole he was at the beginning. Poor Laura Ramsey is given an impossible role to play here – the movie basically sees her as a reward for the male characters in the film, all of whom sleep with her at various points. Worse still, that seems to be to be how Angela sees herself – and the film doesn’t give her any intelligence or insight into her behavior. She is probably the worst example of the perfect woman that an immature man needs to grow up I have seen in a movie.
Still, her role may be preferable to the one the immensely talented Amy Poehler is saddled with. She is basically a heartless, nagging shrew throughout the movie – a one dimensional, miserable woman, whose misery seems to stem from her inability to have children (although that plot thread is dropped fairly early in the movie – as is her character, who disappears for long stretches in the film).
It is possible that Weiner is trying to make a statement about the shallowness of modern culture – but if that is his goal, the end result is more muddled than smart or incisive. The final moments in the film are probably the best – these are the only ones in the film that I truly thought were the work of a talented writer-director. But even they work only in isolation from the rest of the film. Mad Men is a great TV show – and Weiner deserves a lot of credit for just how good that show is. But Are You Here shows that unless he’s going to grow by leaps and bounds, he should stick with television. Are You Here is one of the worst films of the year.