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Review: Sadly, Matthew Weiner's 'Are You Here' is a surreally sloppy dramedy

"Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner tries his hand at movies with "Are You Here," a misjudged Owen Wilson-Zach Galifianakis comedy that turns into a drama.

Owen Wilson and Zach Galifianakis bro down in "Are You Here." Credit: Millenium Entertainment Owen Wilson and Zach Galifianakis bro down in "Are You Here."
Credit: Millenium Entertainment

‘Are You Here’
Director: Matthew Weiner
Stars: Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis
Rating: R
2 (out of 5) Globes

There’s no joy in reporting the lousiness of “Are You Here,” the first big movie directed by “Mad Men” creator and showrunner Matthew Weiner. (He directed a tiny film, "What Do You Do All Day?" starring himself, well before he was famous, though it was never released.) Among those who have brought a “cinematic” quality to television, he’s one of the finest practitioners, having helped develop a house visual style that’s as meticulous as the writing.

“Are You Here,” by contrast, is a sloppy mess, albeit one that (though it doesn’t seem so initially) is atypically ambitious — not in how much it tries but in the unusual thing it’s trying to do. Owen Wilson plays Steve Dallas, a hedonistic weatherman who regularly shows up to the job minutes before airing. His best friend is Ben (Zach Galifianakis), a stoner and wannabe poet who suddenly loses his wealthy father, and must attend to the small town, Pennsylvania estate he's received. The idea is to take a broad comedy — say the kind that would star Owen Wilson and Zach Galifianakis — and gradually slip reality into its goofy confines.

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Laura Ramsey, center, is one of the only strong parts of "Are You Here." Credit: Millenium Entertainment Laura Ramsey, center, is one of the only strong parts of "Are You Here."
Credit: Millenium Entertainment

That’s not easy to do, especially for someone still green as a filmmaker. Experienced as Weiner is — and he cut his teeth on sitcoms before getting involved with “The Sopranos” — he can’t quite make the tonal transition work. It doesn’t help that the comedy parts aren’t too hot, with quips not even John Slattery could sell. More importantly, the characters simply aren’t very interesting — not enough for a feature length film, or even something shorter than that. They’re all stock: Wilson is the self-destructive guy who learns he’s been crying on the inside the whole time; Galifianakis is a Galifianakisian holy fool who at one point streaks; Amy Poehler is a cold shrew who’s also warmer on the inside.

Thing is, once it starts getting more serious, it sometimes actually works. Ignore a misjudged kiss in the rain during a pivotal moment; in its final stretch this unfunny comedy with characters who go through routine changes starts getting weird, almost mysterious. The final shot is the kind of bold, cryptic image that would close out a “Mad Men” episode (although it’s not that mesmerizing — more in comparison to all the preceded it). All of the actors handle the more melancholic, recognizable human parts of their characters well; as in “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” Galifianakis excels at drama when he’s at his most quiet. But it’s too little too late. The only one who holds her own throughout is Laura Ramsey, who plays the mistress to Galifianakis’ dead father and avoids every gold digger stereotype. Whatever maturity “Are You Here” has is there when she’s onscreen.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 
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