There's no question mark in the title Are You There because the
question is the answer. Matthew Weiner's black rom-com is about
characters who try to discover their authentic selves. To ask if how
you're acting is the real you is to begin to discover who you are.
One striking scene visualizes characters living out of whack. TV weatherman Steve Dallas (Owen Wilson) lies sleeping on a sofa while all around him, at silent comedy speed, his best buddy Ben (Zach Galifianikis) races through a day or two of frenzied time killing. Combining a still and a fast-action within the frame is an emblem of living as a divided being.
Each character has a wide range of potential selves. The apparent ideal is the beautiful free spirit Erin (Naomi Lavette). She was married to the much older man whose funeral calls son Ben and buddy Steve out to Amish country. If Erin seems the stereotypical hippy she's a winning, warm embodiment. Though Steve once rails at her -- not entirely inaccurately -- for being a wispy tumbleweed, she brings Ben and Steve the stability they both need in the conventional hippy free love kind of way. Her range is Mother Earth and Tumbling Tumbleweed.
Steve opens the film with an empty protestation of contentment. "Honest, every morning I wake up happy." This turns out to be a set speech he delivers to his every pickup, explaining why he enjoys being single yet he always senses he might be missing something. By leaving that last door ajar he wins them all and even gets the girls to pick up the tab when his plastic always fails. He is so locked in that routine he uses it on a call-girl, not the expected recourse of a swaggering local TV star.
The most dramatic discovery is Ben's. The family's black sheep doofus, he's a bipolar nut bar who indulges his every flush of impulsive egotism, however destructive. He ends up a sensible businessman with the integrity to fulfil his promise of giving Steve the huge farm he inherited and the courage to start a new, simple life, perhaps with the single mother Allie (Jenna Fisher) in his complex. Now his complex is a residence, something he can live in. The film closes on him musing on the connection between the Amish farmer with his one-horse wagon, and the plastic red horse Allie's little son is riding. The animal and the plastic here bespeak a simple genuine pleasure.
In minor key rediscoveries, Ben's sister Terri (Amy Poehler) mellows from litigious shrike, taking her sterility frustrations out on others, to a respectful sister, easing Ben back into the family. They tear down the past to build a more useful future. Sexy news anchor Victoria (Alana De La Garza) converts to off-camera wife and fidelity. Steve anoints his better qualified assistant Delia (Lauren Lapkus) as his TV successor. Although she's a meteorologist she still needs a boob job to get on camera. TV requires fakery. There's a telling moment when they slog through a remote hurricane story. Ben lolls in his chair, while Delia curls up asleep under the counter.
For all Steve's initial swagger he's clearly not at ease with himself. Erin diagnosis his veil of charm intended to prevent any real relationship. The old Steve plays cavalier at his job, arriving at the last minute, usually high. When to win Erin he goes straight, he abandons the fakery in his performance. Instead of losing his on-camera effectiveness he discovers he has an off-camera self. That works even better on-air and, more importantly, it sends him back to Erin and the farm. Reunited with Erin the ex-weatherman knows better than to come in out of the rain.
If the script went further perhaps the starstruck meteorologist Delia will some day see past her new boobs and look for her more authentic self. Self-discovery is a process, one misstep after another.
But that would be another movie. This one is quite rich and enjoyable enough. In fact, it doesn't deserve the reviewers' tepid reception. I think had it not been written and directed by the Mad Men whiz Matthew Weiner, it would have been more warmly embraced. Because it's so different, our expectations are disappointed and we conclude he went wrong. On the contrary, to his credit he slipped into a modern setting and a predominantly comic genre, and conceived a fine oddball cast of characters and some very funny lines and scenes. In its thematic concern with apparently gifted and successful people feeling hollow, craving more authenticity in themselves and in their lives, this film is clearly of a piece with his Mad Men. Weiner didn't sell out. He moved on. For more see www.yacowar.blogspot.com.
Are You Here
Action / Comedy / Drama
Are You Here
Action / Comedy / Drama
Ben Baker is a man-child who lives on his friend's couch getting high. His friend, Steve Dallas, is a moderately successful weather reporter who is living a superficial life. When Ben receives word that his father has died, Steve drives him home and they re-connect with Ben's successful and driven sister Terri and hippie step-mother Angela who is the same age as they are. The reading of the will drives Ben to come up with a new purpose in life, but those around him don't prove to be very supportive, and then they all re-examine their own life.
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October 04, 2014 at 08:13 PM