VOD Movie Review: Welcome To Me

Kristen Wiig in
“Welcome to Me”

Welcome To Me: Kristen Wiig virtually wigs out in this strange, cinematic selfie:

By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)

Kristen Wiig’s Alice Kleig used to be in love with her television. An unrequited love, since whenever Alice hugged her TV, it never hugged back. But when Alice inadvertently ends up on the other side of the screen, the camera lens finds her — its red glowing eye meant only for her — and a newer, truer love is born. Welcome To Me indeed.

When most multi-million dollar jackpot winners realize their great good fortune, they squeal, they cry, they hug everyone they’ve ever known, they quit their jobs and find themselves dropping big bucks on dream vacations, homes, boats, cars, etc. But when the psychologically disturbed Alice scores her $86 million, she becomes eerily focused on the one and only thing she’s ever wanted. She wants to be a talk show host. Like Oprah.

It’s not as insane as it initially seems. Particularly since we’ve witnessed an earlier scene setting up Alice’s fanatical devotion to the talk show queen. Alice appears to have videotaped every Winfrey show that’s ever aired and, on any given day, loads up her VCR and sits in front of the screen, eyes glazed, reciting Oprah’s monologues perfectly, echoing every rise and fall in Oprah’s voice. Sure, other people may want to try to buy their way into having a small visit with Oprah. It’s the rare duck who wants to actually become her.

As luck would have it – and Alice has plenty of that these days – she pushes her way onto the set of a local TV station that airs vitamin supplement infomercials. When she approaches the producer/studio head (James Marsden’s Rich), he introduces himself with a “Hi, I’m Rich.” She volleys, “So am I.”

Kristen Wiig in “Welcome to Me”

The ensuing production meeting is deliciously comical. Lugging a large suitcase full of checks and cash, Alice lays out her plan for a two-hour talk show which she’ll call “Welcome to Me.” She will enter on a large, moving swan. The quasi-solicitous production crew (entailing a wonderfully funny Joan Cusack as the painfully patient program director and Jennifer Jason Leigh as a snarling producer) tries to ascertain the show’s content; the guests; the themes. But their queries and suggestions fall on deaf ears. The serious, soft-spoken Alice is clear: the show will address her traumas, discoveries, issues, history, philosophy, food predilections. … all wrapped up in the one big bow called Alice. And no one else.

Unfortunately, first-time feature writer Eliot Laurence delivers a story that sometimes falls as flat as Alice’s oft-prepared statements. This film is no Being There, the biting 1979 satire starring Peter Sellers as the simpleton Chauncey Gardner, who is inadvertently mistaken for a brilliant man with extraordinary, Zen-like insight. While Chauncey’s clueless audience grows exponentially, with everyone accepting his words as gospel because their neighbors are doing the same, the halting Alice attracts a smallish group of quirky misfits. Such as those who have nothing better to do than watch a woman eating up time onscreen by eating up a meatloaf cake. Laurence skirted the opportunity to turn the lens on Alice’s fans, those who find themselves relating to her pathological self-involvement. The ones who yearn for cameras to track their every move so that they, too, can be stars. While Alice is verifiably ill, the movie could have given us an incisive look at her followers who have no doctor’s notes for their narcissism. You know … the selfie crowd.

Additionally, Laurence throws wrenches into Alice’s speech as if she’s starring in Dumb and Dumber. Alice may be sick, but she’s not a bumbling idiot. Her mispronunciations of carbohydrate (“carbohydrant”), procedure (“pro-said-dure”), and tsunami (“ts-oo-ami”) are superfluous. Are these malaprops supposed to elicit laughter? Or just annoy us?

However, Wiig’s performance is extraordinary, wholly muffling the performer we’ve come to know from her prior films and television work. Rather than their usual sparkle, her eyes are flat. Rather than speaking with a knowing giggle in her voice, she allows herself no internal humor. Wiig delivers a raw, brave and unsentimental portrayal that won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

Wes Bentley, Kristen Wiig

That said, a few characters are oddly unexplored, such as Alice’s octogenarian parents. Other than Alice shooting them dirty looks occasionally, nothing is mentioned about their age, or their relationship to their daughter. And the charming half of the TV studio team, Alice’s part-time lover Gabe (Wes Bentley), does a 180-degree turn and suddenly appears almost as nutty as Alice. Is the screenwriter suggesting that normalcy is just a thin façade for most of us? Is the line of the borderline personality disorder rapidly approaching? And if so, why not take a closer look?

Many of the brighter spots come from the scenes involving the studio staff, sparked by Ms. Cusack’s dry deprecating wit. Linda Cardellini is fine as the sweet friend (quite a far cry from Mad Men‘s troubled, adulterous neighbor) and Tim Robbins, always solid, portrays the sage, soft-spoken psychotherapist who cares … until he can’t.

Perhaps if director Shira Piven had given the scenes more snap, or at least had mixed up the rhythms, the film wouldn’t have lagged. As it is, Welcome to Me seems much longer than its 87-minute run time.

It’s a crying shame (not a hysterical, mentally unwell crying shame), but a crying shame nevertheless that the movie falls short. Especially given Wiig’s stellar performance.

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Rating on a scale of 5 Oprah wannabes: 3

VOD Release Date: August 6, 2015 (Netflix)
Welcome To Me
Directed by: Shira Piven
Screenplay by: Eliot Laurence
Cast: Kristen Wiig, James Marsden, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Wes Bentley, Tim Robbins, Joan Cusack, Linda Cardellini
Running Time: 87 minutes
Rating: R

Here’s the trailer for Welcome To Me:

About Kimberly Gadette

Film critic Kimberly Gadette, born and raised in movie-centric L.A., believes celluloid may very well be a part of her DNA. Having received her BA and MFA from UCLA's School of Theater, Film & Television, she spent many of her formative years as an actress (film, tv, commercials, stage) before she literally changed perspective, finding a whole new POV from the other side of the camera. You can find her last 500+ reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/kimberly-gadette/). Other than taking the occasional side trip to Cannes or Sundance, you can find her at the movies ... sitting in the dark as usual.

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