When not on the local news presenting the weather forecast Steve Dallas (Owen Wilson) is spending time smoking pot with his childhood friend Ben Baker (Zach Galifianakis). When the latter’s father dies, the pair return to their hometown to attend the funeral, where they discover that the deceased has left behind a lot of money and land to his only son, infuriating Ben’s dispassionate sister Terry (Amy Poehler). While the siblings are caught up locking horns for the payout, Steve uses this opportunity to try and win the heart of the widowed Angela (Laura Ramsey). Though all of the events are disrupted somewhat, when it becomes apparent that the peculiar, unorthodox tendencies belonging to the unhinged Ben, could be signs of a deep-rooted mental illness.
There is by no means an obligation for the filmmaker to be poignant or profound with this endeavour, as he dictates the tone and craft this in a way that he sees fit – but seeing as it’s so evidently pushed for, it makes anything less feel like something of a failure. Weiner uses Ben’s instability as a means of driving this tale, enriched by its emotional core. Even Steve makes for a tragic case, as a man nearing middle-aged life, and yet is suffering from a drug addiction, unable to feel comfortable when sober – and yet we never quite transcend the comedy genre. There’s one moment when Ben is sitting in a cab, suddenly coming to the terms with the fact that perhaps he’s not very well. Then seconds later we see Wilson’s Steve chasing a chicken around a farm.
That being said, Galifianaski turns in an impressive, nuanced display, with a sense of vacancy to him, and an unpredictability to his demeanour. He’s vulnerable too, showing off similar traits to that we see in his famous turn as Alan in the Hangover trilogy. Though playing somebody so hysterical yet again could point towards typecasting, in his defence, there are few actors quite as capable of tackling such a role. As for Wilson – he is one of the most likeable, charming and inherently charismatic actors working today, but in this instance, even he manages to push the audience to the limit, as we struggle to quite endear ourselves to his character Steve. That shouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, but Are You Here is set up in such a way that we’re evidently supposed to adhere to him and root for his cause. But hey, maybe it’s when he’s being a peeping Tom on his unsuspecting neighbour, or when he tries it on with a widowed woman moments after the funeral of her late husband. Either way it’s hard to fully get behind him.
There’s no denying Weiner’s talent as a director and writer, having penned various episodes for both Mad Men and The Sopranos, but what he manages to squeeze into an entire season of the aforementioned shows, he’s attempted to fit into almost two hours of cinema with this particular endeavour. As such we’re left with an overambitious feature that has so many conflicting themes, you’re never quite sure where to focus your energy. Still, this is better than the comparable comedy This is Where I leave You. Though sadly, that’s not saying too much.