MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Are You Here’ Rambles On Pointlessly About Love, Life, And Greed

are_you_here

Film: Are You Here
Directed by: Matthew Weiner
Starring: Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Poehler

With Zach Braff’s feature Wish I Was Here, a film that was supposed to be about carrying on in life turned into a somewhat directionless narrative feature chock full of overstuffed allegory and inane ruminations about epiphanies. With Are You Here (burdened with a similar title), Braff will seem like a masterful auteur compared to this feature. While only striking comedic gold in short and un-sustained instances, this feature from Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner falls flat under tedious character development and a paper-thin plot.

Are You Here follows Steve Dallas (Owen Wilson), a financially struggling weatherman who enjoys having insightful conversations with prostitutes instead of actually laying with them. His friend Ben Baker (Zach Galifianakis), a social extrovert who detests society as a machine and smokes enough weed to somewhat suppress his bipolar disorder, comes into a large sum of money after his estranged father passes away. Naturally, Ben’s sister Terri (Amy Poehler) is against this decision and tries to prove the mental instability of Ben to the court. Ben and Steve take a short road trip to the family’s estate all while coming up with vapid ways to spend the money.

Matthew Weiner, the man behind AMC’s Mad Men, writes Are You Here as if it was a soporific drama with small splashes of infidelity that are so present in the aforementioned cable hit. The problem here is that Steve Dallas, the main character, is a con man to say the least. He carries almost no conscience and plays the victim when he is called out on his devious ways. A film doesn’t have to make the main character likable but at least make his character a bit more dynamic than the generic ‘man-changes-ways-in-final-act’ trope. Angela Baker (Laura Ramsey), the young widow of Ben’s father, even shows up to be a mere plot device as Steve tries to court her. Sporting hippie-like garb and ideals, Angela’s character arc (if you want to call it that) is reduced to someone who tries to play off of Steve’s wit. This would have been fine if the character had any. Ramsey is gorgeous to look at and can carry herself very well even with dour material like this. Expect to see more of her soon.

Weiner’s genius is in writing characters that we are enthralled to watch even as they do the worst things to other people in the least violent way possible. Here, we get two main characters that are drifting through life in their own way. A change comes in the form of a large inheritance. Steve represents the end of the spectrum that is waiting for that big paycheck from his generous friend as he takes advantage of his mental instability. Ben represents a character with no need for money; he doesn’t want to be tied down by the societal machine. After a series of ruminations on how to help Ben’s mental illness, he takes pills and turns into a functioning member of the community. After spending three quarters of the film exposing the viewer to the good-natured Ben, it comes off quite slapdash as his persona is shifted in service of sending a message about taking responsibility.

The characters being so one-note aren’t the only disappointing facets about Are You Here, though. Aside from being close to 15 minutes too long, a film that markets itself as a life-affirming comedy instead comes off too soppy and dramatic. The only couple of laughs that can be salvaged from such a fawning experience are when Galifianakis flies off the handle, much akin to his The Hangover character. The viewer won’t find Owen Wilson getting stood up by paid escorts very funny since his charm is close to non-existent. For the most part, you spend the movie questioning how any of the other characters could put up with his insipid selfishness. Wilson is at his worst in years here while Galifianakis and Poehler, natural comedians, are doing their earnest to rise above the material. Poehler’s sister character is reduced to spouting off metaphors at all people she feels are below her.

There are even multiple scenes where multiple characters ask people, “why are you here?” The main players then stare off into space after they pose the question, further proving the film’s eternal struggle to dig deeper into what life is all about.

Are You Here is disappointing as it furthermore proves that not all talented writers/directors can necessarily excel beyond their respective medium. Weiner is among the most talented people to be working today in the entertainment industry and I hope to see him break free from the kind of monotonously dull drivel that is Are You Here.

GRADE: D-

Review written by Sam Cohen

Sam Cohen

Sam Cohen is that guy you can't have a conversation with without bringing up Michael Mann. He is also incapable of separating himself from his teenage angst (looking at you, Yellowcard). Read on as he tries to formulate words about movies!
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