Published Aug 21, 2014The creator of Mad Men, one of television's most nuanced character dramas, has survived the jump to the big screen with his keen, rotting-on-the-inside sense of suavity and unsentimental insights intact.
Upon first glance, Are You Here appears to be a somewhat smug and secretively cutesy dramedy stuffed full of leftist idealism. To an extent, that's true, but it's not far into the film before Weiner begins detonating incisive truth bombs that decimate any sense of naivety felt in the setup.
In the most considered performance of his career, Zach Galifianakis (Between Two Ferns) stars as Ben Baker, a bipolar pothead slacker forced to consider donning big boy pants when his father unexpectedly dies. Eveready to provide company, a joint and ride, his long-time best friend, sleazy local TV weatherman Steve Dallas (Owen Wilson), drives our frazzled dreamer out to the family's country estate to settle affairs with his sister (an effectively bitchy Amy Poehler) and their young, fetching stepmother, Angelina (Laura Ramsey).
When the departed senior Mr. Baker's will leaves the majority of his wealth to Ben, including the family business, his bitter, ornery sister legally challenges his mental fitness. That's the soul of the story, and Ben's emotional journey serves as a vessel for Weiner's multidisciplinary musings on the tendency of culturally alienated people to romanticize antiquated ways of life as inherently better by virtue of a tangible connection to the earth.
Always reflecting the inverse of these attitudes is the materialistic, opportunistic, falsely satiated Steve, who, strictly speaking, is the film's actual lead. However, his rather rote romance with Angelina and investigation of a deeply held belief in the bottom line of self-gain don't carry the weight of his delusional, but inspired buddy's ideological metamorphosis.
That's not to disparage Wilson's performance or the value of Steve Dallas's personal character trajectory; his turn as a selfish, but loving surrogate big brother to Ben is consistently funny and absolutely integral to the themes Weiner's exploring. It's just that the forced maturation angle, in the service of getting friendly with borderline taboo tail, has played out in more than a few movies. Beyond his essential function as Ben's not-so-different opposite, that's the crux of Steve's motivation.
Consider this Ben's story and you'll be more receptive to the many hilariously biting and deeply affecting humanist observations broached along the way. With how the film is structured and especially the resolution it builds to, his is definitely the transformed perspective that resonates after the credits role.