Matthew Weiner found popular and critical acclaim with his TV series “Mad Men,” creating a rich, detailed world in the life and times of Don Draper. But things are a little bumpier in the comedy-drama “Are You Here,” his feature film debut.
“Are You Here” stars Owen Wilson as Steve Dallas, a weatherman on local tv who spends his time charming his way through the day at his job, and avoiding the responsibilities of adult life by getting stoned, often in the company of his mentally unstable, off-the-grid friend, Ben (Zach Galifianakis), who is avoiding family pains of his own. The two have been friends since childhood, and when Ben‘s father dies suddenly, Ben inherits the hometown estate and together they are forced to deal with the fallout of Ben’s new-found purpose, coming into conflict with Ben‘s business-minded sister, Terri (Amy Poehler), and into the orbit of Angela (Laura Ramsey), the young and free-spirited second wife of Ben’s father.
At its core, the biggest problem with “Are You Here” is its leading man. Wilson has always been a wry, slippery presence on screen, a winning personality given strong material, and most comfortable as the sly man-child dodging emotional connection and forcing adulthood to ride in the back seat. At first glance, then, he seems a good choice to play yet another charmer who just wants to stand to the side and enjoy himself. But the arc of Steve’s redemption is a halting one, not particularly well drawn, and Wilson is too genial a presence to make the progress convincing. Weiner’s script doesn’t help him out much, but a shrewder, deeper performance could have done much to cover the gaps.
On the other hand, as Ben, Galifianakis is well cast and does some of his very best work, bringing an honesty and simplicity to a role that could easily slip into caricature. His confusion and pain feel real, even if the ways in which he demonstrates that pain do not. Poehler is given little more to do than play the money-minded shrew, and those hoping for glimpses of the comic wit she has so carefully honed on “Parks and Recreation” will be deeply disappointed.
Maybe it’s the shorter form of feature films (compared to the expansive, patient nature of multi-season tv), but Weiner can’t seem to consistently find his way into his own material here, with scenes that work alternating with scenes that should pay off but seem slick or stunted. More than once, he resorts to narrative short-cuts that feel more contrived than genuine (the forced antipathy between Angela and Terri, the unconvincing resolution of Steve and Angela’s dilemma).
And without offering up a spoiler, there is an unresolved ‘ick’ factor involving a last reel development in Angela and Ben’s relationship, one that is a serious distraction in its casual, almost flippant treatment. She’s his step-mother, fer cryin’ out loud.
The Blu-ray of “Are You Here” is presented in 16 x 9 full frame format, with no visible problems and reasonable clarity. There are options for English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
The audio track is 5.1 Dolby True HD. There are no set-up options.
A commentary track with writer/director Matthew Weiner, not bad of its sort.
“Are You There” is not unpleasant viewing, just disappointing given its pedigree, and forgettable given its execution.