Review by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
Director: Matthew Weiner
Stars: Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Poehler, Laura Ramsey
Running time: 112 minutes
Writing for a television drama must be hard. Dreaming up intricate and interesting characters and gradually developing them over multiple seasons. Mapping out long-form arcs. Building worlds that are entertaining and enriching. Some TV writers make it look so easy, though, like Mad Men boss Matthew Weiner. Before he launched the exceptional, singular AMC series, Weiner was a staffer for David Chase on The Sopranos, where he penned some of that groundbreaking HBO show's greatest episodes ("Unidentified Black Males," "The Test Dream"). Switching over into Mad Men full-time in 2007, Weiner has emerged as a pioneer in the modern-day television revolution, the creator of the all-time iconic antihero character Don Draper. It's undeniable—Matthew Weiner's a storytelling genius.
Well, small-screen stories, specifically. As it turns out, writing for movies is a much tougher assignment for Weiner, whose feature film debut as a writer and director, You Are Here, had its world premiere here at the Toronto International Film Festival. And, to put it lightly, it's a disaster. To elaborate, You Are Here is the kind of slight, ho-hum comedy that makes television properties like Mike & Molly seem bold. Gone are the narrative complexities and abstract symbolism of Mad Men; in the places of Weiner's full-time job's best elements, there are lamely broad jokes, goofy musical cues that sound yanked out of 1990s Ivan Reitman comedies like Dave or Junior, and a sloppy script that introduces and quickly abandon subplots, contradicts itself numerous times, and, in the end, fails to reach any poignancy, even though it's desperately trying to do just that.
Worst of all, Weiner's made the unthinkable: A Frankenstein's monster stitched together with attributes from the corniest Owen Wilson and Zach Galifianakis movies. Both of those comedic A-listers star in You Are Here as best friends trying to get their respective lives in order. Wilson's character, Steve Dallas, is your typical Owen Wilson character: the cool guy who's in on the joke but too lackadaisical to care what anyone else thinks about him. By profession, he's a local Maryland news station weatherman, and off the clock he's a harmlessly self-centered lothario. Some purpose finally enters Steve's life when his unstable stoner pal Ben (Galifianakis) needs a ride to his father's funeral in the sticks of Lancaster County, MD. Prone to maniacal rants and head-scratching eccentricities, Ben's an unbearable combination of Galifianakis' Due Date and The Hangover characters.
Back in his hometown, Ben learns that he's inherited his dad's farmhouse, local business venue, and a total lump sum of $2.5 million, which doesn't sit well with confrontational and icy sister, Terri (an inexplicably underused Amy Poehler). Of course, Steve's primary concern is to woo the father's much younger widow, the beautiful hippie Angela (the delightful Laura Ramsey, the only component worth wholeheartedly commending). And, since You Are Here does everything by the book, they'll eventually get romantic, even if Weiner's dull script meanders its way to that predictable outcome.
Though it's rightfully admired mostly for its dramatic triumphs, Mad Men can also be really damn funny every now and then, which makes the fact that You Are Here is so devoid of winning humor all the more bewildering. For Pete Campbell's sake, Weiner somehow manages to make Amy Poehler unfunny. Given little to do other than figuratively rain on all parades in sight, Poehler's character is one-note whenever she's on screen, which isn't often. You Are Here belongs to Wilson and Galifianakis, both of whom aren't pushed in any visible ways by their director. Known for being a control freak on the Mad Men set, Weiner either bowed down to his You Are Here actors' individual star power or, for no good reason, actually wanted them to unimaginatively rehash their past roles.
At least in the last two Hangover movies, Galifianakis was asked to do absurdly crazy shit, like decapitate a giraffe with a bridge. Here, he's the harbinger of overly written dialogue like this, said in response to the different lives Ben and Steve have led: "We took the ski lift to the top of the mountain—you went one way and I went the other." Reminder: They're in Lancaster County, Maryland, in the spring. There's no ski resort anywhere to be seen.
It's hard to believe that a multiple Emmy winner who's written stellar Mad Men episodes like "Shut the Door, Have a Seat" and "The Suitcase" is responsible for lines like, "You don't grow—you're a tumbleweed who goes wherever the wind changes," or, "You were the squeaky wheel, so you got all the oil." The unfortunate Ms. Poehler delivers both of those. You'd think someone as undeniably gifted as Weiner would have to try extra hard to write something so poor.