During the Toronto Film Festival I was told to steer clear of Matthew Weiner‘s You Are Here, a kind of mixed-bag relationship dramedy with Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Poehler and Laura Ramsey. Part of me didn’t want to see this anyway because I can’t stand Galifianakis so I passed. As it turned out most of the reviews were negative. But a complaint voiced by Hitfix‘s Gregory Ellwood in a recent TIFF sum-up piece rubs me the wrong way.

“Weiner’s passion project about two buddies getting their lives back on track couldn’t decide what it wanted to be,” Ellwood writes. “A drama? A comedy? A farce?” My immediate reaction was “why does a movie have to decide what it precisely is in terms of tone and approach? Why can’t it be a blend? Why can’t a film accomodate differing attitudes and moods simultaneously or at least shift between them? Isn’t that what life is like sometimes?

Here’s how director-writer-actor Peter Ustinov put it about 23 years ago in an interview for the Criterion Spartacus laser disc:

“All things in life exist side by side. I think that the prejudice arose from the [’50s and early ’60s when people] expected a film to have one overall color, and anything comic was termed to be relief, which is silly and stupid….life is full of surprises. The most mature kinds of work are ones in which you don’t know whether you’re going to be asked to laugh or to cry at the next moment. That is really drama as I see it. I don’t believe in comedy comedy or tragedy tragedy or slapstick slapstick. I think it has to be a mixture if it’s going to be at all lifelike and remind people of their own experience.”