Mad Men and Sopranos writer Matthew Weiner premiered his feature film debut You Are Here at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival – a genre-lost film filled starring comedic actors Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis, and Amy Poehler who are simply… not funny.
By Andrea Wrobel
It is not unforeseeable to feature a primarily comedic actor in a film favouring more dramatic elements; Adam Sandler and Jim Carey are well acquainted to this practice. Matthew Weiner’s You Are Here
, unlike films like Punch-Drunk Love
and The Majestic
, invites viewers into a film that teeter-totters between a discernible comedy and a half-hearted drama, never allowing viewers enough time to invest themselves in the characters or story of either spectrum.
The film is about long time friends Ben (Galifianakis) and Steve (Wilson) who return to their hometown after learning Ben’s father has passed. Back in town, Ben’s sister Terri (Poehler) loses her cool when the group learns Ben, a distracted and unsuccessful businessman, has inherited their father’s farm, land, and business. Thrown into the mix is a one-dimensional New Age stepmother Angela (Laura Ramsey), now widowed, and who happens to be the same age as both Ben and Steve.
The A-list actors shine (faintly) through their sloppily structured characters simply because of their established place in the comedic atmosphere. Their veracity, however, is limited by the vague and tangled plotlines that are meant to evoke a sense of awareness and longing for days when we, as humans, were more connected to the earth and all it could provide for us. Perhaps the film is an indication itself of how disconnected we are to what we’re trying to communicate at times.
In any case, this attempt at remembrance employed situations that were explored only on the surface. To represent pure cultivators we are shown an Amish family who, when Ben attempts to connect with them, are reduced to pacifists, devoted to religion. To signify Steve’s recognition of food procurement we see Angela’s innocent encouragement for Steve to go out to the backyard and kill their chicken dinner (which he does, and which blatantly illustrates how a chicken still lives after its head is chopped off. To signify Ben’s re-connection with the ‘old world’ he creates the Omega Society. Unfortunately, Ben’s attempts in forming the group (even naming the group) aren’t taken seriously from the get go, especially when he’s diagnosed with bipolar disorder (another plot-point that isn’t explored or mentioned thereafter). My only hope was that the film would use Angela’s positive and supportive presence as a guideline for Ben and Steve to get their substance-abusing and, for Steve, womanizing habits under control. This, however, did not happen.
Angela’s interest in cultivation and “feeling” (versus the very black and white comparison of smoking marijuana and “not feeling”) and her defense in marrying a 90-year-old man for true love is unabashedly thwarted when she gets sexually involved with both Ben and Steve for no definable reason with no obvious outcome. B-story characters are also introduced that have little to no significance in proving the point the film is trying to make. In the last act, Jenna Fischer appears playing a (seemingly single) mom who lives in Ben’s new complex. As her and her son wait for the rain to stop outside a grocery store, she gets a phone call, passing her meek son off on Ben who puts him on a mechanical horse at the film’s end. Weiner juxtaposes the mechanical horse and the Amish family’s real horse while Ben draws conclusions that aren’t entirely clear. On this note, the almost two hour film is over.
It is clear that Weiner’s talent at TV writing does not structurally translate into the feature film realm. “I don’t pay attention to genre,” he claimed during the Q&A portion after the screening, and it’s made quite clear in You Are Here.
Check out our review of Salinger – Shane Salerno’s documentary on writer and “recluse” J.D. Salinger.