Saturday, May 9, 2015


Say what you will about Kristen Wiig, but she's not in it for the money. She could've done Bridesmaids II and III by now, but rather than milk her biggest hit into a Hangover style franchise, she's opted to carve a niche for herself as a kind of neurotic 'everywoman', or as she might have been called in a previous decade, an indie darling. Her latest is Welcome To Me, a loose pile of fluff that encourages every tic and quirk in her arsenal. The shame of it is that Wiig is such a charismatic and talented actress that she can almost lift this one out of its half-written malaise. But not quite. While watching it I felt like an uncle indulging a little niece or nephew in another grammar school production, applauding politely while stifling a yawn.

Wiig plays Alice Klieg, a mentally ill shut-in who spends her lonely days watching television and dreaming of being like Oprah Winfrey. When Alice wins $86-million in a lottery, she promptly spends a portion of it to produce her own Oprah-style TV show. The production company she hires is is only too happy to take her money because they're stuck making infomercials. Quicker than you can say 'Rupert Pupkin,' unpredictable Alice is off her meds and on TV.  

Her topics include everything from eating an entire meatloaf in front of a studio audience, to staging unhappy memories from her childhood. At one point she even neuters a dog. The strangeness of her show makes her a cult-favorite among bored TV viewers who enjoy watching train wrecks. She eventually rises up the ratings, beating a syndicated rerun of 'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'.

Of course, you can't have a movie about a mentally ill person without the obligatory "mad" scene, and we're eventually treated to a couple of moments where Alice cracks up in public. Wiig plays these scenes bravely, but we never muster any real feelings for Alice. She's too dippy. Wiig underplays the comedic aspects of Alice, but the result is confusing.  Are we supposed to laugh at her insanity, or shed a tear for this unfortunate woman? There's a scene where she has a panic attack and then wanders nude through a casino lobby, but it feels desperate, as if the filmmakers were trying to tack on some drama.  The excellent supporting cast - Tim Robbins, Joan Cusack, Linda Cardellini - is given little to do but act exasperated as Wiig mispronounces words and nibbles at string cheese. Most upsetting of all is to see Jennifer Jason Leigh in a dull role as a TV producer. Leigh was one of the bright lights of the 1990s. Now she's sixth-fiddle to Wiig.

I suppose the makers of this movie thought they were creating something in the vein of Network, where an unstable person was thrown into the TV spotlight, or Being There, where a hollow man learned everything he knew from watching television. In one scene, Wiig actually hugs her TV set, proud that it hadn't been turned off in 11 years.  The difference is that those movies played for bigger stakes, and were pitched at a much darker tone. At heart, Welcome To Me doesn't wish to be anything more than a trite feel-good story about a woman who learns that money can't buy happiness. Yes, it even has an upbeat  ending. Will Ferrell is credited as a co-producer, which makes me think the movie was, in its original inception, a much broader comedy. How might it have turned out if Alice had actually been a male character, played by someone like Ferrell? Funnier, I imagine, and better.

The character of Alice Klieg must have appealed to Wiig's love of lonely, misunderstood characters. But was she so enamored of the part that she didn't notice the rest of the script was underwritten and often illogical? Then again, most scripts are pretty bad these days, so it's probably better to act in a vacuum than to not act at all.

- Don Stradley

No comments:

Post a Comment