Berlinale: Are You Here

Are You Here Matthew Weiner
Directed by Matthew Weiner
Starring Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Poehler and Laura Ramsey

by Joanna Orland

To go from creating highly acclaimed TV series Mad Men to producing such big screen trite as Are You Here, Matthew Weiner reinforces the power of television as a more relevant medium for drama.

For his first attempt at film-making, television creator Weiner has chosen dramedy Are You Here starring some of today’s great comedians Amy Poehler, Zach Galifianakis, and Owen Wilson in the lead role.  The film is about friendship and family, and two men who struggle to grow up into the adults they’re long overdue to become.  The film starts off as a stoner buddy comedy, with Galifianakis and Wilson being as charming and quirky as ever.  The film then gets serious.  About as successfully serious as the failed family drama This Is Where I Leave You of which this film is reminiscent.

Are You Here is a mess tonally, surprisingly so from the creator of Mad Men, a show whose tone is the best thing about it.  The comedy falls flat although Galifianakis and Wilson are funny performers, and the drama is full of self-righteous pretentiousness.  While Wilson and Galifianakis have some funny moments, Poehler is completely underused.  She has no comedy in her role and her dramatic moments are as fruitless as her character’s womb.

With a running time of two hours, this film never puts a foot right.  It has no substance and very little charm, even with notorious charmer Owen Wilson in the lead.  In fact, Wilson and Galifianakis are better than the material they are given.  If Are You Here followed the comedic tone it began with, perhaps these performances could have salvaged something of Weiner’s lacklustre ideas.  The examinations of friendship and family pale in comparison to Mad Men‘s exploration of the complexities of human behaviour, and if it wasn’t the same genius behind such a show who was at the helm of this, I would have given up fifteen minutes in, which I probably should have anyway.

Weiner wrote the script for Are You Here ten years ago, before he made Mad Men.  Since the days of Mad Men, he obviously has grown as a creative voice, producing very meaningful work that has affected the populous, firmly establishing itself as an icon in pop culture.  As a creative, Weiner should have looked forward and evolved his work rather than look back to before he found his success.  This vanity project could hinder his chances of a film career post Mad Men, but perhaps that is for the best if this is the work he feels speaks for him.

Or maybe it’s not Are You Here setting Weiner creatively back to before he found success – Perhaps Mad Men was a fluke.  I’ve often struggled with the show, dipping in and out of watching it, finally giving up when it failed to keep my attention yet again for the umpteenth time.  But with Mad Men, I respect it as a creative work.  The tone, the performances, the character studies are often brilliant.  Are You Here has none of that, and no redeeming qualities.  Weiner has clearly exhausted his character development skills with Mad Men and left nothing for Are You Here, a film better left unseen in order to keep intact Matthew Weiner’s stance as creative ‘genius’.

Leave a Reply