Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner takes his act to the big screen with Are You Here, which turns out to be the most quotable Owen Wilson comedy since Zoolander.
It’s a bit all over the place, a stoner comedy with heart, a glib mental-illness riff, a light romance with bite and a too-conventional spoof of small market TV news.
There’s where Steve Dallas (Wilson, named for a Bloom County character?) glides by as the weather anchor. He shows up on set at the last minute, stoned half the time, but “smooth as silk” on the air.
His boss (Paul Schulze) disabuses Steve of any notion of moving to a bigger market, “not with that nose.” And Steve acts like it, burning through pot as if it was legal, running the same spiel on an endless succession of women.
“Honestly, I wake up happy. I’m that guy!”
Then, there’s Ben, his lifelong pal — a plainly unstable stoner he visits in Ben’s ruin of a rural trailer. Ben is paranoid, neurotic and a bearded man-child. So naturally he’s played by Zach Galifianakis.
Steve has to drive Ben to Ben’s father’s funeral, stopping for a joint, and to allow Ben to rescue a bait-shop-load of crayfish.
“They mate for life, you know.”
Late for the funeral, awkward with Ben’s sister Terri (Amy Poehler) at the after-burial lunch at Outback, at least Steve is impressed with vegetarian Ben’s blooming onion.
“Deep-fried onions, dipped in Ranch? Bet it tastes like … spring-time!”
It’s after the funeral that bonkers Ben and testy Terri set off sparks. Their dad was a success in his corner of Pennsylvania Amish country. Terri, bitterly trying to get pregnant, gets a lot of cash, but Ben is entrusted with the family store and farm. Terri hates that, and she hates dad’s calm, earthy and beautiful young widow, Angelina (Laura Ramsey). Terri is sure Ben will squander his inheritance, and she’s pretty sure the righteous hippy Angelina is up to no good.
Steve? He just notices how gorgeous and open-hearted the now-available widow is. Not that she’s having him.
“Maybe you’d better run along and get high so at least one of us can forget we had this conversation.”
Weiner didn’t so much create characters as “types” here, and then cast actors who have mastered those types. Still, he makes up for that with delightfully witty dialogue, much of it delivered in that off-hand way Wilson has.
Some comedies come out in August because they just aren’t funny enough (see Let’s Be Cops) to find an audience in the heart of summer. Are We Here, from its nothing of a title to its wayward length and broad embrace of ideas and themes, seems to warrant August release simply because who could figure out how to market it?
It’s smarter than your average Wilson farce and sweetly deviates from the formula that made Galifianakis famous. But like Sopranos creator David Chase’s trip to the big screen, Not Fade Away, Weiner’s Are You Here has good scenes and clever dialogue, but is over-stuffed with a TV season’s quota of not-that-original ideas.