In the history of cinema there may be no greater sacrifice than that of the unnamed, uncredited hen who cinematically gives her life in the making of “Are You Here.” I only hope she is honored during the Oscar’s In Memoriam tribute. Her death is one of the few “Are You Here’s” most notable moments. Who is responsible for this mess of a film? Surprisingly “Are You Here” is written and directed by Matthew Weiner. How can the man who gave us “The Sopranos” and “Mad Men” now give us “Are You Here?” I have no idea.
“Are You Here” follows the story of two best friends–Steve Dallas (Owen Wilson) and Ben Baker (Zach Galifianakis). Steve is a TV weatherman in Annapolis and Ben,who lives nearby, has been his friend since childhood. Ben seems off the charts smart, but has untreated, severe mental health issues which make it hard for him to function. Ben is estranged from his family, so it’s been Steve who has looked out for him for most of his adult life. That in itself is pretty sad, since Steve can hardly take care of himself. He barely makes it to the studio on time and if not at work, he’s smoking pot, drinking and hitting on every woman he meets.
Ben’s father dies and the two friends go back to their hometown for the funeral where Ben’s shrewish sister, Terri (Amy Poehler) and his father’s second, much younger New-Age wife, Angela (Laura Ramsey), await them. When Ben unexpectedly inherits a large portion of his father’s estate, the characters’ lives take a sudden twist. Therein lays the remainder of the story. How will this money affect them all?
Much of “Are You Here’s” problem is in its script. Weiner doesn’t know what he wants the film to be. Dark comedy? Slapstick? Stoner? Rom-Com? Dramedy? You name it…“Are You Here” has it, and that is not necessarily good. The film doesn’t know in which direction it wants to go and so it goes everywhere.
“Are You Here” has a very good supporting cast of actors, but they are pretty much wasted. In minor roles, Edward Herrmann, Peter Bogdanovich, Alana De La Garza, Paul Schulze, David Selby and Jenna Fischer do the best they can with what they have. Laura Ramsey is fine as the young wife, but in reality, she isn’t called upon to do much other than give off some kind of spiritual glow. However, it should be noted that Amy Poehler does give a very good dramatic turn.
In the end, “Are You Here” belongs to Galifianakis and Wilson. Shockingly, Galifianakis is the better of the two. His manic scenes are a bit much, but he handles them well, and when his character calms down, he’s even better. Perhaps Galifianakis really is an actor. Unfortunately, Wilson’s performance is rather lackluster. Much like the film, his character’s portrayal is all over the place. Wilson is one of those rare actors whose good-natured humor comes with a lot of pathos. With the right director, he can really shine. Weiner isn’t that director to make that happen.
But back to the chicken…if you ever want to eat poultry again, I urge you to stay away from “Are You Here.” For vegetarians, go at your own peril.
“Are You Here” is in theatres and available On Demand.