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Matthew Weiner makes a disappointing feature debut with ‘Are You Here’

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Owen Wilson and Zach Galifianakis star in Are You Here.
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Are You Here Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis, Laura Ramsey. Directed by Matthew Weiner. Rated R. Available on Video on Demand.

A stoner comedy starring Owen Wilson and Zach Galifianakis is probably the last thing people would have expected from the feature-film debut of Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, but that’s exactly what he’s delivered with Are You Here, which disappointed audiences at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival (when it was known as You Are Here), and is just as disappointing now with a bit of re-editing and a slightly altered title.

The problem with Are You Here isn’t that Weiner is attempting comedy; Mad Men is often laugh-out-loud funny, deftly mixing humor with seriousness. Somehow Are You Here completely bungles that balance, starting out as a typical buddy comedy about charming playboy Steve Dallas (Wilson) and his longtime best friend Ben Baker (Galifianakis), a paranoid weirdo. Steve seduces women, Ben spouts conspiracy theories, they get high together, and then their lives are upended when Ben’s rich, estranged father dies and leaves him a fortune.

The rest of the movie lurches from obvious, groan-worthy jokes to somber, soul-searching moments, without anything to connect them together. Steve falls in love with the much younger widow of Ben’s father, while Ben experiences a severe mental breakdown that quickly stops being funny. Characters change motivation seemingly at random, while Wilson and Galifianakis fall back on their established (and tiresome) screen personas to ride out the inconsistencies. As clumsy as Mad Men is graceful, Are You Here is proof that genius doesn’t always successfully translate from one medium to another.

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