Review: Welcome to Me
PLOT: Alice Klieg suffers from bipolar disorder, doesn't have a job and is obsessed with Oprah. When she wins over $80 million in the lottery, she decides to use her money to make her own talk show - which focuses solely on her.
REVIEW: Kristen Wiig has shown a very precise talent for playing characters we're not sure we should be laughing at or with... Or should we be laughing at all? Her characters often prove to be extremely vulnerable, with hints of true sadness, but Wiig the performer is so apt at exuding likable silliness that we find ourselves caught between cracking a large smile and feeling really bad for her. This dichotomy has never been so apparent than in WELCOME TO ME, a very offbeat, very dark comedy about a woman with a real disorder who is so weird that she's funny even while we contemplate the sickness she's dealing with. Imagine one of Wiig's crazier SNL creations but add in a rather depressing backstory and you get an idea of the strange balancing act Wiig and director Shira Piven attempt here.
The comedienne plays Alice, a self-absorbed manic depressive who has recently decided to give up her meds, much to the concerned chagrin of her therapist (Tim Robbins). Alice doesn't have much going on in her life (she lives on disability checks) other than old re-runs of Oprah (she's got practically every episode on VHS) and playing the lotto. Both hobbies are about to pay off. One night she wins the lotto - $80 million - and her first order of business is to move out of her crummy apartment and embark on what she views as her calling: hosting a talk show about herself. To do this, she enlists the help of a sinking infomercial company run by a couple of brothers; Rich (James Marsden) is simply over the moon at the prospect of receiving $15 million to help the clearly unhinged woman live out her dream, while Gabe (Wes Bentley) seems morally conflicted by the concept, but can't resist either the money or the woman herself (he might be a recovering sex addict, thrice divorced).
Thus begins "Welcome to Me," which runs for an hour at 10am on a network no one watches. Alice's vision for the show isn't very Oprah-like, as it turns out. The entire show isn't really about helping others, but giving a stunned audience some insight into her own horrible life. (Complete with depressing reenactments of past traumas.) As the show progresses, it develops a bit of a cult following - nothing major, mind you - but enough to stoke Alice's preposterous ego and guide her toward even more ludicrous segments, like one where she neuters dogs on air. The further into this self-contained madness Alice goes, the more she distances herself from her only real friends, like lifelong pal Gina (Linda Cardellini) and the sympathetic Gabe, who begins to realize he may have no place in her progressively oblivious existence.
Produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay (Piven is McKay's wife), WELCOME TO ME certainly brings to mind some of Ferrell's more cringe-inducing comedic moments; not unlike his Ron Burgundy, Alice practically lives in a world of her own, saying unsettling things with little regard for their effect on others. Unlike the ANCHORMAN films, however, WELCOME TO ME treads on fairly uncomfortable territory by asking us to consider the fact Alice may very well be sick in the head. The film wisely doesn't delve too deep into this, and that ambiguity results in us feeling even more unsure about our lead character. It's pretty skillfully handled, and Wiig, using her best straight-faced expression of peevishness throughout, is more than well-equipped to play both Alice's unlikable and pathetic sides.
The movie doesn't always handle the serious stuff well, however. Piven and scribe Eliot Laurence are firing on all cylinders when focusing on Alice's baffling TV show (the reenactments of her life are particularly funny, as are her daffy cooking segments), but Alice's darker moments upset the film's rhythm. A grim breakdown sequence, complete with an unsettling full frontal moment for Wiig, comes across as gratuitous; WELCOME TO ME doesn't need to "go there," necessarily, to let us know Alice is a troubled soul - we're already well aware.
Still, the movie mostly works on its own bizarro terms, and Wiig is backed up by a very strong supporting cast; Bentley is a stand-out as something of a sad sack who feels out of control in the hands of both Alice and his pushy brother, while Marsden is at his handsome-smarmy best. Veteran character actresses Joan Cusack and Jennifer Jason Leigh are both very welcome sights as two women who try to help the brothers corral their nutty new "boss," and Cardellini is the "sweet, supportive best friend" personified. A very solid cast helps keep this unstable movie upright.