‘Are You Here’ belongs nowhere else but bottom
I recall reading about the new film “Are You Here” when looking at the selected films for last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. It was hard to not take notice - it marked the directorial debut of Matthew Weiner, one of television’s most celebrated figures as the creator of “Mad Men,” and starred a trio of comedic heavyweights (Zach Galifianakis, Amy Poehler, and Owen Wilson).
Only then it was called “You Are Here” (more on that in a minute) and, from what I gathered, was a completely different film … one that was savaged by its festival audience. And here it is, a year later, apparently completely reworked, retitled (“Are You Here”) and not even getting the dignity of a theatrical rollout.
It could be recast with Muppets and turned into a musical, but I still think there is no amount of polish you can place on this turd to merit a viewing. It follows Steve (played by Owen Wilson) a womanizing Annapolis TV weatherman and Ben, his schlubby, Zach Galifianakis-y best buddy (played by Galifianakis) as they navigate the potholes of life. Minutes into the film, Ben’s father dies, leaving the rudderless man-child with a couple million bucks and a ton of real estate. It’s property his sister Teri (played by Poehler, using none of her comedic ability, but only her ability to be a bitchy nag) desperately wanted, and she is resentful it lands in Ben’s hands (though one could argue she’s just resentful about life, as she seems to do little else but pout).
"Are You Here" does not really follow a script so much as just compile a bunch of fortune-cookie philosophy and middle-age, shoe-gazing angst. "The thing about friendship is that it's a lot rarer than love," or "Life doesn't stand up to thinking," may have looked really cool on paper, but when it escapes the lips of one of "Here's" characters, it lands with a thud.
Each actor hits the required marks, but scenes are stitched together in such a jarring fashion, it’s hard to really measure any impact they have overall on the film. Ultimately, the fault lies in the hands of Weiner, a man who has been credited with one of the strongest dramas on television today.
Forget that he’s out of his element with the genre of comedy. There are scenes included that serve no narrative purpose, while others feel as though they linger until all the air has left the room. Visually, the film looks cramped and often just sloppy.
As for the title, it’s a simple Video on Demand tactic. Using the old Yellow Pages trick of alphabetical listings heading to the top of search menus (AAAA Auto Body Repair), “You Are Here” was rebranded “Are You Here” to coincide with its inauspicious video debut and this launching it to the top of the listings. This practice has been used countless times recently: Naomi Watt’s “Two Mothers” became “Adore,” and Kate Bosworth’s “While We Were Here” became “And While We Were Here,” once it made its VOD debut.
But even with its new name placing it at the top of the alphabet, “Are You Here” belongs nowhere else but the bottom.