'Are You Here?'
Some movies are horrible because they were made by people who should never be allowed to own a camera or pretend to act. Then there are horrible movies made by such talented people that the failure is inexplicable. ‘Are You Here’ is one of the latter and should be avoided by anyone who likes any of the talent involved.
The film has been a passion project for writer/director Matthew Weiner stretching back to before his days running ‘Mad Men’. Creating such a successful show pretty much guarantees that you’ll be able to make one of those long lost scripts if you so choose, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to actually do it. (See David Chase’s ‘Not Fade Away’ for more.) The weirdest part of ‘Are You Here’ is that the tonal shifts and social commentary that Weiner struggles with are exactly what make ‘Mad Men’ such a success. Perhaps Weiner benefits from the talented staff around him on the TV show more than anyone imagined, or maybe no one involved with this movie was willing to challenge or question him. It’s hard to say exactly what went wrong here, aside from everything.
The plot involves Owen Wilson as a stoner weather man with a stoner best friend played by Zach Galifianakis. Friends since high school, they’ve shuffled through life without ever challenging themselves or pursuing goals beyond immediate gratification. However, since the status quo must be challenged in such stories, Galifianakis’ father dies, prompting a return home for the duo. They arrive in their former farm community to find Galifianakis’ bitter sister (Amy Poehler) feuding with her hippie/trophy stepmother (Laura Ramsey) about inheritance before the body is even buried. Then the will is read and Ramsey gets nothing, with the bulk of the inheritance going to the mentally ill Galifianakis. At first, he decides to create an idyllic new society with the money, then he gets on meds and decides that a simple life and sharing with his friends is the better way to go. Now the only questions are whether or not Galifianakis’ generosity will cool off his sister’s bitterness, and whether the lost Wilson will learn how to finally live by falling in love with the free spirit and new age philosophy of Ramsey? Hmmm… I wonder.
The biggest surprise in ‘Are You Here’ is that it’s just not funny. The film has lines that seem to signal that laughs should follow, and they’re performed by three dependable comedic talents in Wilson, Galifianakis and Poehler. Yet somehow not a single joke lands. Given that all three are known for improvisation, you’d think that they’d have at least inserted laughs through force, but clearly they stuck to the limp script to please their writer/director. That complete comedic failure might have been possible to overlook if Weiner’s script dug deep to unearth some sort of personal truth that stings audience like touching a raw nerve. But nope, there’s nothing here that hasn’t been expressed more succinctly in a greeting card, and some of the metaphors Weiner employs are so nakedly obvious that they’d be laughed out a high school creative writing class.
‘Are You Here’ fails so often and in so many ways by people who should know better that it feels like an anomaly. Something clearly went very wrong and there’s no way that everyone involved isn’t aware of what happened. Their track records prove that they’re all better than this, so it’s best to chalk the movie up to 112 minutes of proof that nobody is perfect and let it begin sliding into obscurity peacefully and without protest.