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Janna is a staff writer for The Hudsucker. Born and raised in a small Ontario town, she made her move to Toronto for university and immediately fell in love with the excitement and pace of the big city. She holds an Honors Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film Production from York University, specializing in editing and screenwriting. She currently works as an assistant editor for a television production company. Janna loves stories told in all mediums, especially film, and takes herself to the movies as much as she possibly can. She can generally be found taking a Zumba class, exploring some of Toronto’s lesser-known gems, or relaxing with her fluffy feline roommate.

Janna Does TIFF: You Are Here

Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis, and Amy Poehler are some of the most recognizable names in comedy today – and, certainly, some of the most bankable. Being a fan of one of those three comedic actors is likely a guarantee that a viewer will go out and watch any project they’re attached to, and will have a good time doing so. Unfortunately, as I’ve learned, big names and real comedic talent don’t always guarantee an entertaining time at the movies.

You Are Here is the second feature from Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, starring Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis, and Amy Poehler. Steve (Wilson) is a weatherman, known for bedding babes and showing up to work stoned, and is best friends with Ben (Galifianakis), a bipolar, paranoid hippie living in a cabin off the grid. They’re childhood best friends, and their relationship is easy: Steve gives Ben money, and Ben grows weed for them both. When Ben’s father dies unexpectedly, he asks Steve to return with him to their hometown in the heart of Pennsylvanian Amish country to attend the reading of the will. There the two men must go head to head with Ben’s sister Terry (Poehler) over their father’s estate while living in the same farmhouse as Ben’s stepmother, 25-year-old Angela (Laura Ramsey). Sounds like the makings of a funny, touching indie comedy – right?

Wrong.

Credit Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images North America

Credit Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images North America

You Are Here is a misguided attempt at both drama and comedy without anything real to say or any large laughs to deliver. We see Owen Wilson yet again playing the goofily charming ladies man he’s built his career off of, going up against Zach Galifianakis in yet another kooky, crazy sidekick role – and neither of them are very funny. The writing is tired and self-indulgent, and very few of the attempted jokes actually land. Sure, both men play their parts well – Galifianakis’s Ben, at the end of the film, is the only character worth actually investing in. But we see absolutely nothing new from either of them – it’s the same old schtick they’ve played a dozen times before, and the film is nowhere near clever or thought-provoking enough to make it work.

The two main female actresses in the film are wasted in their roles. Amy Poehler is far funnier than her role as Ben’s cruel sister Terry gives her credit for, and after seeing her do such great things with strong characters such as Parks and Recreation’s Leslie Knope, it was a downright shame to see her talents so underutilized here. In the hands of another writer, Laura Ramsey’s Angela could have been an eye-opening, intriguing role – she genuinely loved her much older, late husband, and has no desire to benefit from his estate. But unfortunately she’s reduced to being the center of a heavy-handed, barely-believable love triangle, the prize to be won by two men practically twice her age. Between Angela’s prize-winning status, Terry’s shrill and overbearing personality, and the parade of women brought in only for Owen Wilson’s Steve to sleep with, You Are Here’s writing is woven with enough misogyny to effectively alienate any hope of a female audience that the film might have had. The female characters of You Are Here are reduced to the stereotypes of the goddess, the shrew, or the bimbo – and no woman viewer wants to see films with those kinds of portrayals. Women deserve better than that.

The film is never clear on its purpose or on who it wants its audience to root for. Are we supposed to be cheering for Steve to grow up, stop taking advantage of Ben, and convince Angela to fall in love with him? Are we supposed to care for Ben as he puts together his life, starts taking care of his problems, and forms a lasting romantic relationship? Are we actually supposed to bother worrying what either Angela or Terry actually want at all? The film presents no clear moral compass, no clear character arcs for anyone besides Ben, and merely sketches of actual, believable characters. There’s an attempt here to make commentaries on mental illness, on the way men age, and on the way modern society as a whole has lost its way… but it’s all too muddled and underdeveloped to actually incite any type of emotion from the audience. I left the film wondering whether I was actually supposed to care about anything that had happened at all – and that’s never good for a film that’s trying so hard to get an audience thinking and feeling.

Credit Getty Images North America

Credit Getty Images North America

It’s evident that Matthew Weiner has assembled a quality cast and crew for his first big-scale foray into feature filmmaking – and it’s even more evident that he was in way over his head. At the director’s Q&A after the film, Weiner talked about how long he’s been working on this project, how he’s had the script for eight years and how much it’s been a labour of love for him. Be that as it may, it came across as a film being guided by a man so focused and in love with the ideas in his head that he wasn’t able to objectively see the story and characters in front of him – and there was clearly no one willing to step up and offer that second perspective. There may have been a couple clever lines, and one entertaining scene with Steve and a chicken (helped largely by Wilson’s physical comedic abilities), but a two-hour film needs far more than that to actually be watchable, let alone entertaining and worth the price of admission.

At the end of the day, You Are Here is a film with nothing real to say, with no real consequences, and no new perspectives to offer an audience. It’s a film that, in the hands of a filmmaking nobody, would have never seen the light of day. And it’s a shame that being a filmmaking somebody is, evidently, all you need to be able to put out drivel for an audience to pay to see.

RATING: F

You Are Here was considered one of the Toronto International Film Festival’s big misfires of the 2013 season. It currently has no release date, but small distribution deals have been struck with domestic and overseas companies.

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  1. Janna Does TIFF: You Are Here | Latest News & Gossip.. DAILY! - September 7, 2014

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