Are You Here gives Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner the chance to abandon sleazy businessmen in favor of two wacky buddies struggling to stabilize their polar opposite lifestyles, but television experience doesn’t exactly create a smooth transition for the anxious first-timer. Most scenes feels overly telegraphed, and our character’s actions project in a way that suits smaller screens well enough, but in cinema, these tell-tale signs ruin what Hollywood magic could have existed between Owen Wilson and Zach Galifianakis. One’s a shallow, drunken ladies man, the other a free-spirited loner hellbent on destroying society’s ugly morality, but even that set-up sounds like a cheesy sitcom, and Weiner never really evolves enough to make his mark on the self-discovery genre.
Diving deeper into Are You Here, the story centers around Galifianakis’ character Ben as he returns home for his father’s funeral. After finding out he’s become the heir of a large plot of farmland and his father’s successful general store, Ben’s sister Terri (Amy Poehler) does everything in her power to win over what she believes is rightfully hers. Ben, unable to comprehend his newfound situation, relies on best friend Steve Dallas (Wilson), a television weatherman with plenty of problems on his own. What unfolds is not only a property battle between Ben and Terri, but a challenge for two friends to either keep wasting their lives in the same foolish manner, or finally man up and accept some responsibility. Or just keep smoking pot. Responsibility sounds hard, and pizza sounds so much better!
It’s rather disappointing, because Weiner’s heart is in the right place, but his execution lacks a genuine spark of life. Wilson’s character is a tired warning about money and dashing looks failing to provide soulful happiness, while Galifianakis’ overabundance of freedom shows an entirely different set of lifestyle problems – but neither are emotional rollercoasters we haven’t ridden before. There’s never a question about how either character will pull their lives together, brought upon by an ever-so-valuable climactic fight, only to be saved by sweet redemption where all wounds are healed with the power of forgiveness. Oh, and in true “three’s company” fashion, there’s a woman causing most of the hubbub, because apparently two male friends can only fight over a nasty, cootie-ridden harlot of the opposing gender.
These are roles Wilson and Galifianakis have played over and over again, with the addition of Amy Poehler as a bitchy, stern character we’ve seen her embody numerous times as well. No one here stretches, no one here reaches beyond a hodgepodge of past acting notes from previous films, and absolutely no one feels challenged. There’s a layer of comfortably that translates into lackadaisical acting and flat characters, squandering the meaty center of Weiner’s mid-life coming-of-age revelation despite actors sporting the best of intentions. Wilson’s pretty-boy charms reveal a tortured core filled with copious amounts of alcohol, hookers, and emptiness, and Galifianakis idles by in a pot-riddled haze while spouting nonsensical malarky like he’s reciting jumbled Rage Against The Machine lyrics, but a certain amount of enthusiasm is lost while stuck in the same tired character arcs, just as Poehler struggles with.
My biggest problem is Weiner’s message, which really doesn’t say a hell of a lot. Discovery can take place during any stage of our lives, which is what Are You Here attempts to show using older-than-usual characters, but there’s a level of disinterest that comes along with this country bumpkin mid-life crisis. I found myself strangely turned-off by Wilson’s character Steve Dallas, your typical “has it all” guy who obviously only found surface-level fame instead of a meaningful family life, but new opinions on the subject never come to fruition as Dallas coerces women back to his swanky apartment with the same memorized speeches. The commentary is pertinent in today’s society – something I see on a daily basis living in New York City – but I never really grasped a sense of sympathy nor did I find myself saddened by the weatherman’s unfulfilling fate. We at least want to see Galifianakis’ character Ben redeem himself after destroying too many braincells, but Dallas’ warnings hold very little value beyond cinematic representation.
In many ways, Are You Here feels like a television sitcom, an overly bright and cheery crowd-pleaser even when darker material surfaces after some long, hard thinking on the part of many main characters. There’s no grittiness to Weiner’s filmmaking, specifically thinking of the outdoor visuals around the farm, and there’s a creeping sense of unimaginative generics far beyond characters and writing are concerned. Waving, grassy fields and dirty chicken cages provide nice little glimpses of nature’s beauty, but a slow, boring pace dulls down Weiner’s vision while wasting more enticing moments of visual pleasantry. Sorry, I feel like I’m becoming repetitive here, but it’s impossible to ignore how generic Are You Here becomes.
Alright, let’s wrap this up – Are You Here isn’t a horrid movie by any means, but it’s an unpolished watch that needs a stronger voice and a few more doses of conviction if it’s to be thoroughly enjoyed. I have nothing against any of the actors involved, in fact I’m a fan of most, but not a single star shines bright enough to shoulder Weiner’s first feature effort, as it lulls itself into a far-too-familiar state of redundancy. We struggle so mightily with identities, trying to compose ourselves even though an emotional storm may be brewing inside, but unfortunately for Are You Here, this rather powerful theme is abused and mistreated, leaving a rather soulless affair for our viewing “pleasure.”
Unfortunately, Are You Here isn't the debut that we hoped Matthew Weiner would deliver, as it struggles to tell a full, meaty story in the smaller confines on a Hollywood movie.