Steve Dallas: That’s the thing about friendship. It’s a lot rarer than love. There’s nothing in it for anyone.
The answer to the question posed in the title of Matthew Weiner’s film debut, ARE YOU HERE, is, if you happen to be watching said film when asked it, unfortunately yes. The “Mad Man” creator’s first film effort appears promising on the surface but is such a mess on screen that I began to wonder how Weiner managed to make the magic that is “Mad Men” to begin with. Weiner is a double offender here for first having written a completely unfunny comedy where joke after obvious joke falls so flat you half expect to hear a sad sounding trumpet after they’re told, and secondly, for taking credit as director on a film with very little direction. Of course, Weiner isn’t entirely to blame; Owen Wilson is horrible in this.
Wilson plays, and I use that word loosely, Steve Dallas, a stoner weatherman who is coasting through his meaningless life of anonymous encounters and detached interactions. He spews the same garbage, night after night, to different people about how amazing his expensive life of nothingness is and it is entirely unclear how to feel about him. Are we supposed to feel sorry for him? Emulate him? Want to punch him in the face? Wilson is too dry to feel anything genuine coming from him and Weiner does nothing to make his hero even remotely relatable, let alone likeable. His best friend is a bipolar, anti-establishment, pot farmer / manifesto writer, named Ben Baker (Zach Galifianakis), who lives in a shack in what I assume is a garbage dump outside of town. When Ben’s father passes away suddenly, this terrible twosome make their way home to the country to deal with his estate. I would expect that hijinks would ensue at this point but really there is just a lot of yelling.
It turns out that Ben’s father was married to someone a third his age (Laura Ramsey) and that Ben also has a sister (Amy Poehler) who is none too pleased that Daddy has decided to leave the bulk of his fortune to her unstable brother. And yet still, no hijinks. Instead, what Weiner “treats” us to is a cranky group of people that clearly don’t like each other very much, dealing with an unfortunate situation that you know will eventually resolve itself, but that you don’t care enough about to find out how that resolution comes about. And as if the awkward, unfunny tone the film maintains throughout weren’t enough to turn you off of it entirely, Weiner ties it all up in a nice, big conformity bow that tells everyone to just be present, nay, be normal, be like everyone else even, if you want to be happy. So, if you ever find yourself watching ARE YOU HERE and you’re asked the title question, make sure your new answer is “Yes, but I was just leaving.”