Are You Here DVD Review: Matthew Weiner Comedy Has Few Laughs and Fewer Special Features
Despite being written and directed by Mad Men’s Matthew Weiner, Are You Here is a film that makes you wish you weren’t. Mad Men, for better or for worse, is a multi-layered slow burning drama, heavy on nuance and symbolism. Strangely, it does have its own comedic charms at a certain point, usually a black humor that comes at the unwitting expense of its characters, but it almost always lands. Here, comedy takes center stage but it isn’t as ripe and doesn’t land with the same precision. It doesn’t land at all, actually.
I’ve watched through the film twice. The second time was necessary as I fell asleep during my initial viewing. The basics are this: Steve Dallas (Owen Wilson) and Ben Baker (Zach Galifianakis) are childhood best friends. Steve is now a weatherman who is moderately successful, despite coming in drunk or high every day. Ben is a bi-polar man child. We’re meant to laugh at their antics. We don’t. You know those comedies that have the wise-cracking black lady that gets into a fight with a Zach Galifianakis-type character? It’s in this movie too. Ben is agoraphobic and hears voices, and tends to strip naked (because it’s funny!). Steve bails him out of trouble but doesn’t actually admit to anyone that they’re friends. Steve tends to pay for sex quite a bit and there’s this really hot girl across his window who’s always getting undressed but he can never see her naked. Oh no! Will he ever get lucky?
Anyway, Ben’s wealthy estranged father dies. As these things go, dad gives the money and the family business to Ben instead of his mean but responsible daughter Terri (Amy Poehler). Steve sees this as an opportunity to wrangle some money out of his untethered friend.
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The old man also left behind his young, earthy wife Angela (Laura Ramsey) who Steve immediately takes a liking to, but she doesn’t respond because he’s a selfish smooth talking city slicker. That’s a major part of this movie—a kind of leave-the-city-and-get-in-touch-with-nature type of deals. There are a number anti-corporate, anti-establishment sentiments, which is fine, but actually becomes one of the only funny bits in the movie, given that there is more product placement here than there is in a Michael Bay film. Characters discuss their favorite cereal, they use specific soda machines, and drive by CVS. This is just in the first half hour.
Other than that, everything unfolds exactly as you’d expect it to. Everybody gets what they want, and Ben manages to start taking medication. Terri learns to become less miserable, and Steve wins over Angela by learning some kind of lesson about…things? I don’t know. They share an impassioned first kiss in the rain.
The film isn’t necessarily bad, I noticed, in my second viewing. It’s just that it’s too familiar. Wilson and Galifianakis play the characters they usually do, and there are plenty of jokes. They’re not good, but they’re there on an efficient schedule. Unfortunately, it seems that Weiner came up with a punch line and then wrote his scenes around it so we invariably get there. The jokes essentially grab you by the arm while holding a gun and force you to ask the setup. It doesn’t help that Weiner is such a respected name in the writing world. There may be a soft bigotry in low expectations but there’s a hard letdown in high expectations too. Weiner seems pretty happy with the result, however, if his commentary on the feature is any indication. His commentary is the only special feature on the DVD so there’s a letdown there too.