Are You Here (R) (112 min.) — Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner makes a troublesome filmmaking debut, wasting a dream cast for a comedy in a fitful story of family tension, mental illness and corrosive self-absorption. Are you laughing? Not nearly enough for a movie starring Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis and Amy Poehler.
This is one of those semi-serious projects comedians occasionally step into, wanting to stretch and winding up straining. Wilson plays Steve Dallas, a TV weatherman breezing through women when he isn't getting stoned with his clinically bipolar friend Ben Baker (Galifianakis). Ben's estranged father dies, and Steve joins him for the trip home for the funeral. Poehler plays Ben's type-A sister Terri, sniping at her underachieving sibling.
Yet the bulk of the father's inheritance goes to Ben, including the farm where the old man lived with a young nymph named Angela (Laura Ramsey). Steve gets ideas, and one of Weiner's missteps is making Angela interested, so soon after the death of a man she claims to love. The character regularly contradicts herself, stripping Are You Here of its last chance to involve viewers.
The plot curdles with questions: Will Ben go on the meds he needs? Can Terri void the will? Is Steve really that much of a jerk, or Angela so faithless? And the answers all come back: Who cares what these thoroughly unappealing people do? In trying to emulate James L. Brooks — a TV refugee who succeeded in films — Weiner neglects the humane elements making obnoxious people nice to be around for two hours. C- (Woodlands 20 in Oldsmar, and video on demand)
Steve Persall, Times movie critic