Film Views: “Are You Here”

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Sometimes you get lucky with those “Available OnDemand…same day as the theaters” movies. With Matthew Weiner’s second film, it wasn’t the case .  Are You Here is a film that has intriguing elements, a cast that’s pretty solid, and a writer/director whose success with Mad Men should entice moviegoers to see the film (It lured me in). However, from the outset, Are You Here is a muddled mess.  Initially, it seems to be about Owen Wilson’s character, Steve. Steve is a mostly stoned weatherman at a local TV station who loves women, likes to wine and dine them, but sometimes doesn’t have enough money available on his credit cards to buy drinks. Steve’s friend, Ben (as played by Zach Galifianakis), is clearly a guy who is unhinged. He lives alone in a ramshackle of a house where he apparently smokes a LOT of weed and fills notebooks full of pot-inspired ideas. When a death in Ben’s family happens (his father dies) and he and Steve go to the funeral, where they clash with Ben’s sister Terry (Amy Poehler) over the fact that the father left Ben the lion’s share of his estate (estimated at 2.2 million dollars), and left Terry about $350,000. Bitter, angry, and jealous of her brother’s inheritance, Terry spends most of the movie pissed off at her brother — who eventually wants to use the money for a kind of “back to the land” institute (remember: most of his ideas come from pot and his bi-polar disorder, so you know they are going to work).

Are You Here

So that’s the conflict in the movie. Steve trying to be there for his friend (and smoke a lot of weed), Ben is trying to keep from going insane, Terry is pissed off, and the rather young widow Angela (Laura Ramsey) having feelings for Steve (and vice versa) while trying to figure out her next move after the death of her husband (Ben and Terry’s father). For all the conflict driving the plot, the movie lacks focus. There’s no clarity about who this movie is about. Is it about Steve or Ben? Terry and Angela are kind of stock characters with very little to do except be angry (Terry) or sultry and understanding (Angela). Steve and Ben are the proverbial aimless white guys who come into some money and have to get serious about life (i.e. grow up). All of that, however, fails to come together in a satisfying way. Add to that the length of the film (almost two hours) and you have a rather long and tedious journey with these characters.

Matthew Weiner wrote the screenplay to this dud back in 2005, and it’s clear that without his Mad Men bona fides, no one would have bankrolled this film. However, someone did, and moviegoers who watch this turkey will be rewarded with very little in terms of entertainment or characters worth caring about.

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