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film review

Matthew Weiner, writer-producer of AMC's milestone television series Mad Men, has made a feature movie, Are You Here. But don't be too quick to swap the remote for a theatre ticket. Everything about Are You Here feels like a bottom-drawer script idea that was put together too casually and carelessly.

Owen Wilson goes through the familiar wistfully self-absorbed routine as Steve Dallas, a local-TV weatherman in Maryland, womanizer, drinker and compulsive spender who's on the verge of being fired for being late or stoned, but is otherwise smug. At least he's doing marginally better than his best friend: Dope-addicted Ben (Zach Galifianakis) is a bipolar recluse who lives in a cabin, fills his notebook with manic scribbling and lives in terror of the coming environmental apocalypse. When Ben's father dies, Steve agrees to drive him to the small town in Pennsylvania where the funeral is being held.

Among the kooky surprises, Ben's father has left a beatific twentysomething widow, Angela (Laura Ramsey), who is occupying the family home. More a succession of contradictions than a character, she changes from sincere grieving widow to romantic prospect in a hummingbird's heartbeat. As with several other women in the film, she's available to be ogled: Who wears a white, see-through dress to her husband's funeral?

The other plot concern is Ben's strident, controlling older sister (a game but hampered Amy Poehler), who is bitter because she can't get pregnant and because her father has left Ben the farm, general store and a couple of millions of dollars. She wants to have him declared legally unsound, which seems plausible enough after, in a manic fit, he runs naked through the fields and ends up at an Amish couple's breakfast table. Although we're eventually supposed to invest in Ben's mental struggle, his problems are also played for laughs.

Fans looking for nuanced storytelling and care in tone should renew their AMC subscriptions and watch the remaining episodes of Mad Men. And, perhaps, be grateful that Weiner used this side project to dispose of some less-inspired ideas.

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