September 10, 2013



If there were no credits on the new comedy-drama YOU ARE HERE, it would almost be inconceivable that an audience member would imagine it coming from the typewriter of Matthew Weiner, the creator of Mad Men.  It’s not that You Are Here is unwatchably terrible, but that it’s merely OK in a familiar and hackneyed way that’s the very antithesis of Weiner’s utterly unique series.  Nor is this an script buried at the bottom of Weiner’s desk that was unearthed by some enterprising producer merely to capitalize on his fame:  Weiner feels so passionately about this project (originally written around the same time as the Mad Men pilot script) that he’s chosen it as his feature directing debut, and he brought almost all the chief members of his Mad Men technical staff (producer Scott Hornbacher, cinematographer Christopher Manley, production designer Dan Bishop, editor Christopher Gay, casting directors Carrie Audino and Laura Schiff) to make it with him.

You Are Here belongs to the time-to-grow-up genre, and its lead characters are two archetypes of that arena.  Steve (Owen Wilson) must be a slick, soulless cynic who sleeps around and barely pays attention to his job, because he’s a TV weatherman.  (He’s the less-than-one-dimensional version of Don Draper.) That leaves his best friend Ben (Zach Galifianakis) to be his man-child mate, the would-be writer/slacker who lives in a trailer and who’s a font of doped-up theories about this and that.  When Ben’s father dies, we undertake that eternal movie journey back to the old homestead, where Ben’s bitchy sister Terry (Amy Poehler) will fight Ben for possession of the estate, and Steve can meet Angela (Laura Ramsey), Ben’s new-agey gorgeous 25-year old stepmother; she may initially seem spacey but is actually an earth mother who understands more about both men than they do about themselves.

Weiner is, of course, a skilled writer, and You Are There is painless enough to watch as it goes through its paces, Steve gradually becoming A Better Man (i.e., worthy of Angela) and Ben learning self-control.  It’s all well paced, and there are a few nice bits along the way, like a scene where Angela challenges Steve to kill his own chicken for dinner.  Most of the time, though, it trades in the obvious.  Terry is really just a troubled human being who’s unsuccessfully been trying to get pregnant (she can’t because she doesn’t believe in God, a helpful Amish neighbor offers).  We know Steve is discovering what’s right and good in the world when he’s won his campaign to have a beautiful old tree taken down outside his condo so he can better see the girl across the way without her clothes on–but once he does, he realizes the tree was more important.  It’s ouch-worthy.

Weiner also hasn’t helped himself with mostly on-the-nose casting.  Wilson is essentially playing the same guy he’s been from The Wedding Crashers to How Do You Know to The Internship (and even in Cars), while Galifianakis’s Ben is a close cousin to his Hangover franchise character.  There’s little surprise to be had in watching them (although Galifianakis does a nice job in the latter reels when Ben straightens himself out).  Poehler could play Terry in her sleep–this is a character whose humanity is revealed by the fact that she likes to listen to Celine Dion singing the Titanic theme song–and Ramsey is lovely but not very memorable.

If any of the writers on Mad Men pitched a story to Matthew Weiner as obvious and cliched as You Are Here, they wouldn’t be writers on Mad Men for long.  The fact that Weiner himself nurtured and clearly cares deeply about this project demonstrates, once again, that nothing is as mysterious as what goes on in the minds of great talent.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."