By Gary Murray

Starring Owen Wilson, Amy Poehler and Zach Galifianakis  

Written and directed by Matthew Weiner

Running time 112 min

MPAA Rating R

Selig Film Rating Cable


Late August is a dumping ground for cinema.  With the kids getting ready for school and the last hurrah of Labor Day around the corner, no one seems to want to go to the movies.  Studios release films that they have little confidence in and just want to clear the shelves.  Are You Here is just that kind of flick.

Named after everyone’s favorite lawyer in Bloom County, Steve Dallas (Owen Wilson) is a weatherman at a local New England station.  He is the type of guy who barely makes it to his work gig, getting high whenever he can.  Steve is more obsessed with the ladies than with his job and never realizes how pointless his life has become.

His best buddy and drug dealer is Ben Baker (Zach Galifianakis).  Ben believes himself to be a writer and is always scribbling things in his notebook.  The screenplay takes off with the death of Ben’s father.  The two men have to go to Amish farm country for the funeral.

At the funeral, the rest of the cast is introduced.  Terri (Amy Poehler) is Ben’s sister.  She is a go-getter who has major plans for both the family farm and grocery store.  Wanting to turn the little store into a giant supermarket, she has only one obstacle—Ben. 

The other major cast member is Angela (Laura Ramsey) the much younger wife of the deceased dad.  She is one of those free spirit women, much more in line with the 1960s hippie movement than the 21st century.  She is also ‘take your breath away’ beautiful.

At the reading of the will, we find that dad left everything to Ben, instantly making him a millionaire.  Since Ben is a fragile person, this sends him over the edge.  The film is of how Ben handles his wealth and his tragic loss.  It is also about mental health and chemical sedation.  There is also a forced love story between Steve Dallas and Angela.

This film is truly a mess almost from the first frame.  None of the characters feel genuine and the situations are forced.  Mental health is a serious issue and Are You Here seems to take a flippant attitude toward the disease.  The film goes from forced comedy to forced emotions without any real feelings.

But, perhaps the biggest problem with Are You Here is the shorthand grieving process.  Angela is supposed to be the brokenhearted widow but is almost jumping in the sack with another man.  If she truly did love her husband, then there would be some sort or mourning.  The screenplay is disingenuous to the process of losing a loved one.  

Of the three leads, all have done better performances.  Amy Poehler is especially weak in a role that is not that well thought out.  Her character has almost no redeeming values and the cameraman caught her in a horrible light.  It is a waste of her talents.

Zach Galifianakis has played crazy before in It’s Kind of a Funny Story, The Hangover series and just about every other role he’s done.  It is getting a bit old for him to keep repeating this crazy shtick over and over again.   Toward the end of the film, he shaves off his beard and he looks strange clean shaven.

Owen Wilson has played the lothario on many occasions but this time out he comes off as a major creep.  In one scene, he watches a woman undress much in the vein of Rear Window but without the tension.  It comes across as sad and woeful.

There is only one reason to see Are You Here and that reason is Laura Ramsey.  She plays this free spirit woman that we have seen 100 times before but does it as if for the first time.   There is a genuine sadness in her performance that becomes endearing.

The film is written and directed by Matthew Weiner so the blame must go directly in his lap.  He doesn’t give the audience any single person to truly care about.  It is all characters who are forced together by circumstance rather than drawn by common feelings.

Are You Here is another late August film that will be forgotten by mid-September, a very long long-shot for end of year awards.  It is the kind of film that thinks is making some grand statement but delivers a mere whimper.

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