Are You Here Blu-ray Review
Sweet. Candid. Smart. Captivating. Uplifting. These are the words I’m sure the filmmakers wanted to hear when made ARE YOU HERE, a new-to-Blu independent film that made the festival circuit in 2013 and early 2014. I have some revisions to the list. Over-ambitious. Tonally discordant. Pedantic. Mind-numbing. Goofy. That isn’t to say that ARE YOU HERE is bad, per say… it just is so wildly inconsistent as to never quite connect on the level it intends.
ARE YOU THERE is the story of relationships on substances… lead Owen Wilson plays small-market weatherman Steve Dallas. Dallas tries to fill the voids in his life with alcohol, marijuana, and women. Dallas’s lifetime best friend is Ben Baker, to whom we are introduced when he attacks Dallas when Dallas enters his home late one evening. Ben grows marijuana in his home and appears to be living his life off the grid, a bit of a loner with some radical beliefs. Both men have been there for each other since they were young but they seem to enable, more than support, each other.
When Ben arrives in a manic state at Steve’s office, Steve learns Ben’s incredibly wealthy but estranged father has died. Steve agrees to accompany him to for the funeral and will-reading for support. Ben is worried to see his family, specifically his sister Terry (Amy Poehler) and his father’s young wife Angela (the beautiful and talented Laura Ramsey). But when Ben surprisingly receives the majority of the inheritance, Steve tries to help support his friend (and to keep medicating him with weed) but their relationship is strained when we realize just how mentally ill Ben actually is when he begins to unravel under the stress of his new responsibilities and Steve develops feelings for Angela.
The director talks in the commentary (see below for more) about his shifts between a stoner comedy and these characters dealing with real life problems; that they were intentional and purposeful to tell the story he intended. Sadly, this is the heart of the problem with ARE YOU HERE and the reason it fails to connect. Too many times the movie tries to take advantage of tropes from both genres leading to a deeply confused and incoherent narrative. To make matters worse there are far too many characters seeking redemption, too many plots and subplots that eventually just become noise and drown out the message.
ARE YOU HERE sets itself up as a movie that might go against the grain, that won’t bend to the traditional storylines and characterizations usually presented in these genres. Within the first 20 minutes, though, you realize ARE YOU THERE is actually the opposite, using (and abusing) every single convention and successfully conveying nothing. This all results in a net-zero change at the end for the audience. Instead of being uplifted or feeling like the characters have evolved we’re just waiting for the sucker to end and wondering how many new twists they’re going to try to throw at us instead of just letting the characters learn from their follies.
Video: (1080p Widescreen 1.78:1) The video for ARE YOU HERE is sufficient and in fact much stronger than it needs to be for a character and dialogue heavy piece.
Audio: (English Dolby TrueHD 5.1) The audio for ARE YOU HERE is a capable if not overly amazing presentation. The dialogue is very well mixed with the general sound design and there are some nice flourishes of color to support the characters.
Audio Commentary with writer/director Matthew Weiner, picture editor Christopher Gay, and cinematographer Christopher Manley (01:54:04) Weiner states that he wanted to put together a diverse commentary panel and he does, the commentary track for ARE YOU HERE providing a great amount of information on the staging, character and story development, and lots of behind the scenes tidbits. This is more worthwhile than the actual film, which is a bit of a disappointment, but as the lone special feature on the Blu-ray it’s far more frustrating.