Welcome to Me (2014) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for sexual content, some graphic nudity, language and brief drug use
Running Time: 105 min.
Cast: Kristen Wiig, Linda Cardellini, Wes Bentley, Tim Robbins, James Marsden, Joan Cusack, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Thomas Mann, Alan Tudyk, Loretta Devine
Small role: Jeremy Piven (voice)
Director: Shira Piven
Screenplay: Eliot Laurence
Review published May 10, 2015
Not as funny as you'd expect, Welcome to Me is an offbeat look at mental illness from the perspective of a depressed and emotionally needy woman. It is often clever, I'll give it that much, but without hilarity or pathos, unfortunately, its welcome begins to wear. Kristen Wiig (How to Train Your Dragon 2, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) gives it her all, even if it's just another variation on the awkward nutcase persona she's developed ever since her "SNL" days.
Wiig plays bipolar Alice Klieg, who has opted to eschew her medication and try to make a go of it, much to her therapist's consternation (Robbins, Life of Crime). This leaves her a virtual shut-in, living vicariously through her VHS tapes, many of them of old Oprah Winfrey shows, infomercials, and self-help professors. That is until she hits the California state lottery to the tune of $86 million, then decides to pay an infomercial company to produce a television show called, "Welcome to Me", whereby she can discuss whatever she wants (usually to celebrate herself) on a TV show to be played on daytime TV stations.
Coasting on idiosyncratic performances and comical situations, Welcome to Me has a manic energy, but exists in a place that seem equidistant from being truly funny on one side and emotionally resonant on the other. For instance, she tells her shrink, while downing a stick of string cheese, that she's going to try to eat protein to avoid having to take meds. It's another character quirk to pile on, neither funny nor insightful. Whole scenes go by without laughs or moments of genuine interest, occasionally feeling like it's about to hit a groove, only to rest back to its original stance of directionless ideas that don't quite congeal into something of substance. There are a few obvious jokes that fizzle: Alice is steaming mad when a local news station airs an interview she did that cuts her off when she mentions masturbation, but that part would have obviously been edited out before broadcast. The joke doesn't work unless it is a live feed.
And the premise begs more questions than it answers, primarily because of the age we all live in. First, Alice could have easily been far more of a sensation doing videos on YouTube, where her audience would have been far less limited, and she could have done daily videos ad nauseam, presumably forever, rather than 100 episodes on a floundering TV station. OK, so she lives in a bubble where she's been since the early 1990s, so perhaps she doesn't know any better. That doesn't mean that she wouldn't draw nearly instant internet attention for what she's trying to do, and her ridiculous on-air shenanigans. Surely, the on-air neutering of animals by Alice would have gone viral at some point, at which people would have discovered what a train wreck the show is, and would have found all of the other oddball things she has done on the show. Lastly, there are so many shows already on the air about eccentric people, from the Kardashians to Honey Booboo, that, really, Alice Klieg is just another damaged and talentless weirdo crying out for attention. It's not nearly as farfetched as the makers of this film think it must be.
Directed by Shira Piven (Fully Loaded), sister of actor Jeremy and spouse to Adam McKay (who produced the film), it's not a bad effort, but it is one that struggles to find the right tone. Certainly, the actors on the screen are playing for laughs, for the most part, but the screenplay by Eliot Laurence ("The Big Gay Sketch Show") isn't built on gags. Had the tone gone a bit darker, and more emotionally insightful, perhaps we'd have the kind of successful Wiig serio-comedy that made The Skeleton Twins a joy, instead of one where we aren't really sure what to make of it. It works better in the beginning, when we allow for some character quirkiness to set the agenda, but after a while, piling on more and more peculiarities doesn't really fly as a movie, and restlessness sinks in, finally giving way to apathy when more sentimental aspects try to take root.
Though I really enjoy Wiig as a comic talent, part of the problem with her here is that she's not easy to understand what's going on underneath the persona. She's definitely someone who'll do whatever it takes to get laughs, but not the kind of actress that can easily lift the veil and show you her vulnerabilities in a raw and necessary way. At its core, Welcome to Me is a character study, but a study into a character who, by the end of the film, is no less enigmatic to us than she had been when we are first introduced to her. While I understand that she suffers from borderline personality disorder that is going by mostly untreated, the hows and whys of even that, her refusal to follow her therapist's orders, remains elusive. For a movie about a central character who is inviting the public to view her and her life in intimate detail, that lack of intimacy between us as viewers and Klieg as character (and, perhaps, Wiig as performer), is what makes Welcome to Me a less than accommodating host.
©2015 Vince Leo