Are You Here is kind of a Goldilocks story. I don't mean that it feels like a fairy tale; on the contrary, it's about two semi-functional men who have to take a break from their permanent life-ruts to return home for a funeral, so it's pretty far from a fairy tale. No, what I mean by Goldilocks story is that the three leads are are like those infamous bowls of porridge: one is too far, one is too little, and the other is just right.
Zach Galifianakis plays one of the three leads - he's the son who has to return home to his father's farm and figure out what he wants to do with all the money and property he's inherited. Galifianakis is good at embodying extremely weird characters in a way that makes their more eccentric touches endearing instead of off-putting. But Are You Here doesn't utilize his talents well, because his character isn't on the border of insanity, he's actually clinically not-ok. With a different actor removing that ambiguity would up the dramatic stakes, but it seemed to seriously hamper Galifianakis, who basically retreated into caricature. His performance is especially disappointing given how good he was in a similar role in It's Kind of a Funny Story.
Another lead is played by Amy Poehler, who is the sister who is mad that her inheritance was so small even though she's much more stable. Poehler tends to excel at roles that let her naturally bubbly personality come through, but her character here is miserable and mean. She does a fine enough job of portraying a bitter know it all, but it doesn't make much sense to cast such a gifted comedienne in such an unfunny role. Are You Here doesn't get a tenth of the mileage out of her that it could have, especially given that the movie finds plenty of space for comedic moments with the other characters.
The final lead is played by Owen Wilson, who is a local television weatherman who likes to hang around and smoke pot with Galifianakis' character. He's the only lead who isn't part of the family, and his role is to play the go-between the warring siblings, sometimes helping Galifianakis by bringing him back down to Earth and other times holding him back by enabling his vices. Wilson's best roles are balanced between lightness and tragedy; they always have warm smiles and heavy hearts. His character in You Are Here is nothing new for him, in that his character is coasting through life and he knows it, but he's at least being put into a role that's right in his sweet spot. He's the only actor in the movie who seems comfortable playing into the script's weird mixture of comedy and drama, because unlike the other actors (who are basically comedians) he's right in his wheelhouse.
Things work out better for Goldilocks than they do for the cast of Are You Here, because Goldilocks samples the bowls that aren't quite right but doesn't have to sit down and eat them all the way through. Are You Here doesn't have that luxury; you have to watch all the scenes, not just the ones that completely gel. It's an interesting study in playing into and against type, so I could see it being interesting for people who are really enamored with any of those three actors. But if you aren't an Owen Wilson die hard, well, maybe you should sit this fairy tale out and hope that the next one stars Prince Charming.
Winner: the Cat