REVIEW: Are You Here

21 08 2014

Are You HereBack in February, I got to see Matthew Weiner’s directorial debut at a special screening in Winston-Salem, NC, where the film was shot.  This event came about halfway between when the film known as “You Are Here” premiered to unanimous pans at TIFF and its eventual quiet theatrical/VOD rollout as “Are You Here.”

The film might have been recut some since that screening.  The level of retooling needed to save what I saw, however, requires change on a far greater scale than inverting the first two words of its title.  The film was a sloppy combination of slacker comedy, family melodrama, and improbable romance, a problem that is likely rooted in Weiner’s script.

It’s fruitless to size “Are You Here” up against an episode of”Mad Men” (the series Weiner created to the tune of all the Emmys) since the two aren’t even in the same league.  It might even be generous to say that the film is comprised of discarded ideas he had in the “Mad Men” writers’ room.  Better for his show’s legacy that he managed to put all the clichés on the silver screen instead of the small screen, I suppose.

Amy Poehler does redeem the film from being a complete trainwreck with a layered performance that gives her more dramatic depth than ever.  Her character, Terri, has lived by the rules and expects to reap the lion’s share of her father’s inheritance over her aimless brother Ben (Zach Galifianakis).  And whenever she gets screwed over by the will, it forces her to reexamine her values and priorities.

Are You Here still

Sadly, Poehler is woefully underutilized by Weiner in “Are You Here.”  He much favors Ben’s peculiar antics, which culminate in a serious arc that Galifianakis can’t quite communicate, and the strange middling of Owen Wilson’s Steve in the proceedings.  Steve is apparently a family friend, but his precise connection them is never quite explained.  And why he thinks he’s somehow going to reap some benefits from the will doesn’t quite make sense either.

So naturally, Steve just helps himself to romance Ben and Terri’s stepmother, a much younger (we’re talking twenties) woman newly minted as a widow.  Wilson’s hairline has receded quite a bit since he stole the heart of Rachel McAdams in 2005’s “Wedding Crashers,” so now it’s a bit creepier when he hits on women in that age bracket.

Even once you get over the disparity in years, their love story still strange because Weiner has no idea how to incorporate it into the grander arc of “Are You Here.”  There’s a lot going on in the film, but more characters and more plot do not alwats equal more insight.  Weiner crafts one of the noisiest stories of the year, and even among the clamor, no one is saying anything interesting.  C2stars


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