TIFF Review: 'Mad Men' Creator Matthew Weiner's 'You Are Here' Starring Zach Galifianakis & Owen Wilson

Reviews
by Christopher Schobert
September 8, 2013 3:25 PM
19 Comments
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Matthew Weiner’s “You Are Here” is the worst “Mad Men”-related disaster since Sally Draper walked in on her father and Linda Cardellini going at it last season. And that was pretty bad, especially since Sally has already barged in on several passionate trysts—happily, not always involving her old man. “You Are Here” is far, far more soul-crushing: a supposed passion project that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival with an air of mystery. Would Weiner’s first feature be a comedy? Would it have the feel of the modern television classic? Or perhaps seem linked to Weiner’s sitcom roots? And would it be any good? The answers to those questions are yes, no, yes, and my goodness, no.

“You Are Here” is a shockingly inept comedy, a project with the look and style of a mid-'90s Ivan Reitman or Harold Ramis comedy, not the first film from one of our finest TV writers. The first warning sign arrives with the opening credits: David Carbonara’s musical score is easily the worst in recent memory, a trumpet-y abomination that, like the movie itself, seems trucked in from some weak-kneed Chevy Chase vehicle. Yet in some ways, the music helps prepare the audience for what is to come. Warning sign number two is the introduction of Owen Wilson’s Steve Dallas, an Annapolis weatherman—yes—with a smarmy, Owen Wilson-like charm (go figure). As he smooth talks some ladies and has his credit cards denied, it is clear we are watching a character the actor has played before, in far better films.

Warning sign number three is the arrival of Dallas’s best friend, Ben Baker, a rotund stoner-philosopher played by a Zach Galifianakis-y Zach Galifianakis (go figure). Within minutes, Ben is bum-rushing Steve’s workplace, fighting off security guards, and emotionally breaking down—his father has passed away. Steve, who comes and goes at the office, accompanies Ben back home to a contrived, poorly sketched family situation. Ben’s grocery-store-owner father was married to the adorable, much younger Angela (Laura Ramsey is the film’s sole saving grace, giving a sweet, likable performance). For obvious reasons, Ben’s shrewish sister Terri (the great Amy Poehler, wasted) cannot stand Angela, and she is also worried about the clearly unbalanced Ben.

Terri is even more upset when her father’s will leaves almost everything—the grocery store, the farm house, a couple million bucks—to Ben; this move is barely explained. Soon, Ben is living back home, Steve is falling in love with Ben’s stepmother, and Terri decides to explore her legal options. Soon, Ben is forced to abandon his weed and his hippie-ish dreams for a medicated, more strait-laced life. Steve must wrestle with his feelings for Angela, his seemingly rudderless career, and the changes in his best friend. If this all sounds confusing, that's because it is. If there is a silver lining among all of this, it is the performance of Laura Ramsey. Yes, her New Age-y Angela is not the most original of creations, but the actress performs with conviction and poise. She is the film’s freshest face, and its most memorable one.

“You Are Here” is intended to be a comedy, and it is a laugh-free one that runs for almost two hours. Weiner’s occasional attempts at profundity—especially the film’s final scene—are clumsy at best, and a genuinely surprising moment late in the film is then tied up with one dope-y kiss in the rain. Elements that feel as if they may lead to something of relevance, like Steve’s job as a weatherman, head nowhere. Terri’s failure to have a baby is dropped, almost as if Weiner grew bored with the character. This is one-note writing, right down to the sneaked cigarette out the window. Steve’s cad offers no surprises, and while Ben’s recovery leads to a nice scene or two—and the always unique sight of a bearded Galifianakis—there is little complexity, and even less of a reason for being.

What is most difficult to comprehend here is what drove Weiner to devote so much time and energy to so lackluster a story. There is nothing wrong with a change of pace, or with using success in one medium to take on something very different in another. But why this story, at this time? Why saddle talented actors like Wilson, Galifianakis and Poehler with hackneyed roles and subpar material? And how can we avoid comparing the film with “Mad Men”? Too many questions, yes, but the truth is, “You Are Here” is a film so bad that these questions are the only thing worth discussing. [D]

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19 Comments

  • Mr. Bojangles | September 10, 2013 11:17 PMReply

    I was at the screening. My most anticipated movie of the festival and one of the worst movies I've seen all year. What a waste.

  • eric | September 9, 2013 2:52 PMReply

    No wonder why this movie had showtimes at 3PM and 8:30AM despite its pedigree...

  • Roland | September 9, 2013 7:28 AMReply

    This review isn't harsh. I was also at this screening, and it's a terrible film. There's no indie-film website conspiracy against it, however comforting of a thought that might be.

  • jack | September 9, 2013 12:34 PM

    Not a conspiracy, but an aesthetic. I'm not criticizing Playlist or the dissolve or whatever, but they have a certain idea of what's cool and what works that is very different than the Richard Roeper's of the world. (Thank God.)

  • jack | September 8, 2013 7:26 PMReply

    I was at this screening, and I think this review is insanely harsh. First off, there's a lot of laughs, some extremely witty dialogue, and the movie is quite touching and heartfelt. It has a mainstream comedy high-key look (which I don't love, but it is what it is) and a main plot with some genuinely odd turns.
    Here's my prediction: indiewire, the playlist, and the dissolve, and all the other hipster sites will hate it for not being arty enough, while mainstream critics will see a surprisingly deft comedy replete with big stars and social commentary. It wasn't a perfect film but I found its shambolic shaggy-dog plot to be intelligent and well-orchestrated.
    As a side note, I liked the Mad Men moment when Sally caught Don, so maybe Schobert and I are already far apart in our critical opinions.

  • jack | September 9, 2013 12:29 PM

    @Schobert Re/Sally, ahhh, I see. Maybe we're not so far apart after all.
    To be clear, I agree with a lot of your criticisms of this movie, and I think your comparison Ivan Reitman (at least aesthestically) is spot on. It was sometimes dangerously like a strange eighties buddy-film. But I also think the film is much, much more interesting than you're giving it credit for, despite all its problems. Some of the dialogue was fantastic. And I actually really loved the characters arcs - how they both wind up in very different places by the end of the film (particularly what happens to Zach G's character).
    I love Mad Men, so like you I felt disappointed by the tone of "you are here" and the lack of sophistication.
    But in the context of a mainstream comedy, I sort of appreciated what it was going for and what it occasionally achieved.

  • GregCwik | September 9, 2013 11:30 AM

    The "hipster" websites will dislike an achingly dull, plodding, clumsily constructed comedy with nothing profound to say and nothing new to offer because it isn't "arty," even though it has some big-name stars in it. Well, that sounds about right.

  • Christopher Schobert | September 9, 2013 10:39 AM

    I too liked the Sally-catching-Don moment; I meant disastrous for poor Sally, which may have been unclear. And Jack, I'm with you on Jenna Fischer -- she made an impression in her few scenes; I would have liked to have seen more of her.

  • ASFan | September 8, 2013 7:37 PM

    How was Jenna Fischer in it?

  • ASFan | September 8, 2013 6:54 PMReply

    I suppose it's pointless to ask about Jenna Fischer's part in the movie.

  • ASFan | September 8, 2013 8:20 PM

    I only ask because now that the Office is over, I'm afraid she'll sink into oblivion, especially since she doesn't have any films lined up at the moment. In addition to this, she has one other film that has yet to be released, but currently, she has no films that she's about to start.

  • jack | September 8, 2013 7:54 PM

    Her part was very small, but I thought it was pretty poignant. Not exactly a stretch for her, but she was great.

  • Some Guy | September 8, 2013 6:11 PMReply

    Not Fade Away Part II

  • Some Guy | September 8, 2013 11:24 PM

    *hearty

  • Some Guy | September 8, 2013 11:24 PM

    Good one, Tim! Thanks for that...I needed a heart laugh.

  • Tim | September 8, 2013 10:47 PM

    I hope this review is wrong and it's anywhere near as good as Not Fade Away.

  • - | September 8, 2013 5:28 PMReply

    Ouch. This is a disappointment, especially considering how hilarious Mad Men can be.

  • Drew | September 8, 2013 3:42 PMReply

    Steve Dallas? The same name as one of the main characters as the comic strip Bloom County?

  • jack | September 9, 2013 1:03 PM

    I was thinking more like, "Sweet Smell Of Success".

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