Having never seen a single moment of Mad Men I can't truly speak to the quality of that show except through the superlatives others have placed on it. Lapping up all of that praise has been the show's 9-time Emmy-winning creator, Matthew Weiner, who has always managed to create something special on the small screen. And that's what makes his feature film debut with the middling and muddled buddy comedy Are You Here, which only a few months ago was titled You Are Here. Not that anybody will care because they'll be too busy wondering where the laughs are to notice.
Weiner has gathered a cast built for comedy but there's a breakdown suffered somewhere along the way. Owen Wilson plays pot smokin', womanizing weatherman Steve Dallas, the stereotypical big fish in a small pond. He thinks he's the king of the little Annapolis, MD news station he struts around at, sleeping with one of the co-anchors and driving his boss crazy. He's incapable of connection on any emotional level with everyone, except for his old pal Ben Baker, played by Zach Galifianakis with the same childish idiocy he brings to every character since The Hangover. Bipolar and claiming to be some kind of "green" enthusiast, Ben has nothing except his friendship with Steve, who he looks up to for unknown reasons.
Drifting along lazily for far too long, the plot kicks into gear when Ben learns that his rich father has passed away up in Pennsylvania. Well, it "kicks into gear" in the sense that something actually happens and it's the last time anything of worth does. Ben learns that he's basically inherited everything, with his eternally-negative sister Terri (Amy Poehler) gaining little and the man's sexy young wife Angela (Laura Ramsey) getting absolutely nothing. While Angela is shocked at first she learns to deal with it, but Terri sees Ben's psychological issues as a means of getting the money for herself. Basically she's a terrible person but at least she's transparently horrible. The other characters, who we are supposed to like, don't have any qualities worth rooting for.
Surely the characters on Mad Men aren't as one-note as these otherwise a petition should be started to have Weiner's Emmys forcibly removed. He seems convinced Wilson's meager charms can make the self-involved Steve likeable, as one of the key arcs involves his growing feelings for Angela. It culminates in a terribly unfunny scene where Steve is asked to capture a chicken for dinner, and he does, chopping its head off and watching it run around decapitated. Yeah, that's hilarious. There's a meandering shapelessness to Are You Here that is trying from the outset and punishing in the long run. Weiner doesn't seem to have any idea what the film is supposed to be about, and he clearly wants it to be about something. Ben, who is magnanimous as often as he's depressed, is suddenly cured in such a knee-jerk fashion it's like Weiner was worried he'd have to cut for a commercial break. But the worst treatment is reserved for Poehler and Ramsey who are given few opportunities to flesh out forgettable female roles.
Sometimes working in the world of serialized television can be detrimental to a movie career. There's a different rhythm and structure to directing features and Weiner may just need more time to adjust. He can always bounce back if somebody's willing to give him another shot, but Are You Here is such a disaster a second chance could be hard to find.