MOVIE REVIEW | Are You Here (2014)

Are You Here

“Steve, I would prefer to forego your input since it most recently resulted in my brother becoming fat, unemployed and growing that supremely anti-social beard.”

Matt Weiner is the creator of one of the greatest TV shows of the last decade. And when you create a show like Mad Men, making the move to feature films is a double edged sword. Sure, you’ve probably got a much better chance of a studio green lighting your project and giving you the money to make it. Sure, you’ve probably got a much better chance of A-list actors taking your calls and reading your script. But the downside is, everyone’s gonna compare it to Mad Men. So, how do I think Are You Here compares to Mad Men?

Nah, that’s not what this is about at all. I tried really hard to judge Are You Here on its own terms and ignore the Mad Men connection. And now that I’ve seen Are You Here, I’m pretty sure Matt Weiner was determined to separate the two as much as possible as well.

Steve (Owen Wilson) is a small town TV weather man who needs to top up regularly with booze, pot and the occasional pill to make it through his day. Ben (Zach Galifianakis) is his lifelong best friend and a burn out who might have a few mental issues, but refuses to take any pharmaceutical treatment. Teri (Amy Pohler) is Ben’s high strung sister, the put upon good sibling who thinks the rest of their family is her burden. When Ben and Terri’s father dies, Terri’s biggest fear is that his grocery store and farm fortune will go to his young, (seemingly) trophy wife, Laura Ramsay as Angela. But when the vast majority of the estate is left to Ben, the family fuck up, everyone starts revaluating their lives.

Initially, Steve sees his friend’s windfall as his own, Terri is obviously furious and Angela takes a zen approach, more offended by her dead husband’s lack of any post mortem attention at all, than the lack of fortune he decided not to leave her. But as the aftermath of the will reading progresses, Steve starts to learn that there’s more to life than money, Ben starts to accept that he might need serious mental help, and Terri starts to relax and appreciate her family, instead of seeing them as an inconvenient responsibility.

Now, all of that probably sounds really sappy, really clichéd and really familiar. And in a way, Are You Here is all of those things. In fact, that’s how I felt for the majority of its running time. Yet, somehow, as the last few seconds played out and it cut to black, Are You Here managed to hit me pretty hard. It had been building to something in a way that I never noticed until literally the last shot. I still can’t explain what it was building to or exactly how it hit me, but it’s still rattling around inside my head in way that not many movies do.

IMDB says it’s a comedy. The pedigree of Pohler, Wilson and Galifianakis would support that. And it does have a few good laughs here and there. But Are You’re Here is much more a drama. And seeing these three comedy all stars take that so well in their stride is part of what made it work for me.

The only real downside to Are You Here, is how obviously it’s written. There are one or two instances where the characters are saying things that no one would ever say in real life, but you can tell Weiner was just so happy with his script, that reality be damned, those lines were going in there.

There’s a line in the trailer, which is also a line I heard Weiner kind of brag about in an interview on the Nerdist podcast (it even appears on the poster and the top of this review). At one stage, Wilson’s character cheesily emotes, “That’s the thing about friendship, it’s a lot rarer than love. There’s nothing in it for anyone”. Now, I’m sure that read great on the page. But in the same way that his pride in that line was the one bad spot in his otherwise great Nerdist interview, it’s that and the two or three similar lines of over polished dialogue that stand out in all the wrong ways in Are You’re Here.

Like David Chase, Weiner’s former boss at The Sopranos, Weiner’s first stab at the movies has been almost completely ignored. And like Chase’s Not Fade Away, Are You Here doesn’t deserve that lack of attention at all. This movie proves there’s more to Weiner than the moody contemplation of Mad Men and makes me more interested than ever to see what else he has to offer.

Are You Here
Directed By – Matthew Weiner
Written By – Matthew Weiner

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