Film Review: Welcome to Me

Kristen Wiig exercises her considerable comic talents as a woman with mental issues who wins the lottery and finances an autobiographical infomercial. Diverting but slightly queasy fun.
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In her still-evolving movie career, Kristen Wiig has been playing it relatively straight with roles more grounded in reality than the manic, even demented recurring characters (Gilly, Penelope, Judy Grimes, et al.) she created during her seven-year run on “Saturday Night Live.” Until now. In Welcome to Me, Wiig is gifted with a character who would fit right in with her “SNL” gallery of neurotics: Alice Kleig, a woman with borderline personality disorder who gets to fulfill a madcap dream when she wins $86 million in the lottery.

Obsessed with Oprah Winfrey and her empire of self-actualization, Alice uses her bounty to fund her own program at a local HSN-style TV outlet, a show all about Alice and whatever strikes her fancy called “Welcome to Me.” Alice’s insistence that she make her initial entrance inside a boat shaped like a swan is just the first tip-off that this is going to be one wacky show, a low-tech, stream-of-consciousness production that will exert the uneasy fascination of a slow-motion train wreck. Alice shares her belief in a high-protein diet and her recipe for meatloaf cake, hosts segments like “Smelling Things Before They Happen,” and rides a bicycle into re-enacted scenes from her childhood and adolescence. Before long, like some new form of outsider art, “Welcome to Me” earns a loyal cult following, including a young groupie (Thomas Mann) who’s doing an academic study of “the narrative infomercial.”

Alice’s enablers include Gabe (Wes Bentley), an infomercial host whose program gave Alice her first taste of momentary TV notoriety, and his slick brother and business partner Rich (James Marsden), who has few qualms about taking Alice’s money to shore up his own struggling enterprise. Underused but entertaining in their stunned exasperation are Joan Cusack as the show’s director and Jennifer Jason Leigh as a production exec.

There’s something a bit queasy about a comedy that derives its laughs from the spectacle of a mentally ill woman acting out her fantasies, but the scenarios Alice creates are so absurd and riddled with non-sequiturs, it’s hard not to give in and giggle. Wiig’s “SNL” characters were often annoying to the point of alienation, and she takes the same risks with the monumentally self-centered Alice. What humanizes her (and the film) is the always-welcome presence of Linda Cardellini as her remarkably patient and loyal best friend, Gina. If the lovely Gina can bond with Alice, we sense, there must be something there worth cherishing. And indeed, the rift in their friendship becomes the main plot driver and road to redemption in the second half of the film. Less successful is the sexual relationship that develops between Alice and Gabe, which screenwriter Eliot Laurence never makes persuasive.

Director Shira Piven (sister of Jeremy and wife of executive producer Adam McKay) ably handles her ensemble cast and their shell-shocked reactions to Alice’s bizarre demands. But it’s primarily Wiig’s show, and Welcome to Me fits her well as a showcase for both her broad comedic talents and the dramatic chops she continues to cultivate.

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