As Sopranos creator David Chase proved with his undercooked 2012 coming-of-age drama Not Fade Away, making great television and crafting compelling features are two very different skill sets. In Mad Men mastermind Matthew Weiner’s big-screen directorial debut, the aggressively unfunny Are You Here, all of the dark humor and delicate character shadings we’re used to seeing on his TV series are conspicuously absent. He’s swapped nuance for blunt-edged numskullery.
Owen Wilson stars as Steve Dallas, a small-market TV weatherman who spends his off-air hours smooth-talking women into the sack and getting baked with his manic burnout best pal, Ben (Zach Galifianakis). When Ben’s estranged father dies, he leaves the bulk of his sizable estate to his hapless son, enraging Ben’s sister, a bitter pill played by Amy Poehler. It’s a shockingly wafer-thin premise to begin with, and the fact that Weiner makes virtually every one of his characters unlikable makes this comedy even more confounding. The film is an unpleasant wallow in shallow, what’s-in-it-for-me misanthropy and unearned, unconvincing redemption. Granted, Don Draper hasn’t always been the warmest of protagonists either, but Weiner at least made him fascinating despite his flaws. Here, though, the writer-director doesn’t even try to leaven his cynicism with anything resembling insight or heart. It’s just the tale of two losers holding on to each other for dear life because they’ve already alienated everyone else. (Also on iTunes and VOD) C-