Director: Matthew Weiner
Cast: Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Poehler
Watch Are You Here online in the UK: TalkTalk TV / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
“Fuck it, I’m getting the didgeridoo,” says Ben (Galifianakis) at the beginning of Are You Here. “Please”, replies best friend Steve (Wilson), “didgeridon’t.”
At that point, you think you know what to expect from Are You Here, Matthew Weiner’s first major step into feature film post-Mad Men: a stoner comedy, complete with terrible puns, dazed discussions on sofas and lots of facial hair. But it soon becomes apparent that this tale of two buddies who like to get high – read: need to learn important lessons about life – isn’t your typical comedy at all.
As soon as we’ve been invited to laugh at our main couple, we’re asked to sympathise with them too. Ben, it turns out, has mental health issues, as well as a drug dependency. Steve, meanwhile, is a man-child who reads the weather for a living in a permanently sunny town; a guy who’s all surface smile and nothing underneath.
When Ben’s dad passes away, he inherits his father’s farm – much to the shock of his professionally-minded sister (Amy Poehler). Meanwhile, Ben’s step-mum swans around the home, an absurdly young, beautiful woman (Laura Ramsey), who knocks Steve for six.
So far, so standard comedy-drama. But even Ben’s sister is given emotional baggage to unload: as well as feeling like the neglected child, she’s also struggling to conceive a child. “Have you tried praying,” asks a local Amish resident, after Ben has run naked around their kitchen. “I don’t believe in God,” she replies. He stares her dead in the eye. “Maybe that’s why you can’t have a child.”
There are spikes of dark humour, delivered with witty timing by the cast, but for all the obvious talent behind the camera and in front of it, Are You Here lacks the suave confidence of Mad Men. Far from the cool complexity of Weiner’s TV show, Don Draper’s creator stumbles over his movie’s tone with every scene. Moments of high drama – yes, there’s a table flip – and low comedy frequently fail to land.
Parts of it work. Wilson sells his coming-of-age journey with typically likeable pathos, while the themes of commercialism and going back to nature’s roots are worthy American fare. Galifianakis even learns to shave for his serious scenes. Placed against Poehler’s straight turn, though, and Ramsey’s (perfectly played) sickly sweet beau, it feels like several movies sandwiched together into an awkwardly heavy (organic) meal.
“Bromance before romance,” proclaims the poster, but Are You Here’s problem is that it doesn’t know which to place first: the mental health dilemma, the inheritance battle, the weed-smoking silliness or the sexual tension between Ramsey’s widow and the swooning Steve. Even the behind-the-scenes jokes at his news station lack the authenticity – and humour – of Mad Men’s carefully realised office world; a sign that Matthew Weiner has really dropped the ball.
“Lots of people turn up to work squinty-eyed, thirsty and unable to walk,” cautions Steve’s boss, when a cameraman makes a dig about his bong habit. “He could be diabetic.” The cameraman nods. “You’re right.” Maybe he should’ve got that digeridoo, after all.