Are You Here (re-titled from You Are Here for no particular reason after debuting at TIFF last year) is a terrible movie that was made by very talented people who should know better. It’s hard to say how things went so wrong given the track records of all the major players, yet somehow the film written and directed by Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner and starring Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis, and Amy Poehler doesn’t contain a single laugh, offer any surprising story development, and it doesn’t have a resonant theme. It’s a collection of lazy pot jokes and half-baked new age philosophy that would be embarrassing as a project by college level filmmakers and feels downright inexplicable coming from such a major collection of talent. It’s a mess that’s best ignored by fans of anyone involved. It’s not even worth a cursory glance out of curiosity. No good could come of watching this.
The story, which unfolds at a sluggish pace with a series of groans where all the laughs should be, follows Wilson and Galifianakis as a pair of wayward stoners lacking anything resembling drive in their lives. Wilson is a local weatherman who succeeds in his job primarily because it requires so little effort. Galifianakis plays a charmingly mentally ill man-child filled with theories about how to live life with any evidence that he has actually lived it. Their little bubble of nothingness bursts when Galifianakis’ father dies, prompting a trip back to their hometown for the funeral. There we meet Galifianakis’ bitter sister (Poehler) and his hippy/trophy stepmother (Laura Ramsey) who have already begun arguing about inheritance. That argument proves to be moot when pretty much all of the money is left to Galifianakis instead. He initially plans to use it to create his own society, but a series of mental breakdowns lead to a complete reevaluation of those half-baked schemes. Instead he decides to go on meds and share his newfound wealth with his family and friends.
Are You Here is the latest quirky life-affirming indie comedy with an all-star cast cranked off of an assembly line. It’s just an inoffensive, pointless, and dull as any entry in the tiresome genre, yet plays out more painfully because of all the impressive names involved. On Mad Men, Weiner has proven himself to be a brilliant writer with wit that cuts like a knife, yet is first feature feels formless, lazy, and pointless in a way that suggests he’d never attempted to write fiction before. Given that he’s not really a comedy writer, it would be perfectly excusable for the laugh count to be lower than one would expect from a movie starring Wilson, Galifianakis, and Poehler, but the problems run deeper than that. The dialogue is painfully on the nose, the endless visual metaphors feel like they were pulled from a high schooler’s dream journal, and the narrative drive is stuck on cruise control. It’s a dull and lifeless film, which is the last thing one would expect from Weiner and how he managed to spit this out from the same computer he uses to write Mad Men episodes is a mystery.
You’d think that three brilliant improvisers like Wilson, Galifianakis, and Poehler might at least be able to cram some of their personality and humor into the proceedings by sheer force, yet they all seem to slavishly follow a screenplay that’s more than a few drafts away from being readable, let alone shootable and performable. Galifianakis and Poehler do play things straighter than normal, so perhaps they were deliberately trying to embrace the drama and stretch their skills, but they still should have known better. Wilson lands a couple of amusing lines in the early going, but once he’s forced to deliver dialogue about personal growth that would feel manipulative in a Hallmark card, any good will he earned disappeared.
The cinematography flater and duller than what Weiner produces for television, so it’s not even as if the movie can be written off as a failed attempt to change his style for a new medium. There’s really nothing positive that can be said about the You Are Here other than the fact that it’s at least under two hours long. The good news is that it’s such a complete and total mess that it can be written off as an anomaly for all concerned. Everyone involved is better than this, so clearly something went drastically wrong somewhere along the line. Trying to figure out what happened or why isn’t really worth the effort. It’s best just to ignore this one, let it drift off into obscurity, and wait for the cast and crew to bounce back with their next project. No need to dwell. Whatever happened, it’s safe to say everyone involved knows they missed whatever mark they were aiming for and are more frustrated by the failure than any viewer possibly could be.