Hopes have run understandably high for the first major feature film effort from Matthew Weiner, creator and executive producer of TV’s brilliant “Mad Men.” But between some negative advance reviews and a reportedly underwhelming debut at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, “Are You Here,” which Weiner directed from a script he first wrote more than a decade ago, has been shaping up as a disappointment.
However, taken on its own terms — that is, as a buddy picture of modest but distinct ambitions — “Are You Here” proves a gently immersive, ingratiating, often witty character comedy with a pair of comfortably effective lead performances.
Owen Wilson plays Steve Dallas, a hedonistic TV weatherman of dubious charms whose off-the-grid, perhaps manic-depressive, best friend, Ben Baker (Zach Galifianakis), is thrown for a loop when he inherits a fortune after his father’s death. At Ben’s behest, Steve joins him at the Baker family’s Pennsylvania farm as a lopsided power struggle erupts among Ben, his hostile sister, Terri (Amy Poehler in a fairly thankless role), and their dad’s lovely, twentysomething widow, Angela (Laura Ramsey).
Once in the fray, the cavalier Steve helps the wildly ill-prepared Ben navigate his moneyed future, attempts (with Ben’s blessing) to secure a piece of the pie for himself and sidles up to the deceptively steady Angela. But it’s the ways — some predictable, others unforeseen — in which Steve and Ben’s weirdly co-dependent friendship is tested as they grow and change that elevate the story.
Sure, the film may not be the most mature or original piece of work, and it could’ve used a more efficient ending. But if you don’t expect “Mad Men: The Movie,” a mostly affable diversion awaits.
“Are You Here”
MPAA rating: R for language, drug use, sexual content and nudity.
Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes.
Playing: At Sundance Sunset, West Hollywood; Laemmle’s NoHo 7, North Hollywood.