You’ve got to give Kristin Wiig credit for taking an unconventional path with her career. Following the massive success she received for writing and starring in Bridesmaids, it would have been easy for her to fall into a lazy career headlining studio comedies. The money would have been good and she probably would have squeaked out a few more big hits to increase her celebrity. Instead, Wiig’s used her success to help get a few small and unconventional indie comedies made and in Welcome To Me, she found a project more than worthy of that lent celebrity. A caustic, twisted, and at times surreal movie that feels like a latter day King Of Comedy, Welcome To Me is a comedy that probably shouldn’t exist. In theory, there should be a whole filmmaking infrastructure in place to keep this exact brand of outsider humor off of screens. Yet thanks to Wiig, the movie got made and while it’s unlikely that there will be much mainstream success in theaters, this sucker has “ future cult favorite” written all over it.
Wiig stars as Alice Klieg, a lost and mentally ill woman who hasn’t turned her TV off in a decade and has memorized a vast VHS collection of Oprah episodes. She has only a single friend (an endlessly put upon Linda Cardellini) and spends the few hours in her day that aren’t dedicated to watching trash TV wondering the streets asking strangers obscene questions like, “Did anyone get raped in A Tale Of Two Cities?” Her psychiatrist (a self-mocking Tim Robbins) has diagnosed Alice with borderline personality disorder and it’s likely there’s much more wrong, especially once she decides to give up her meds in favor of a high protein diet. Things don’t exactly look good for Alice until she wins over $80 million in the lottery. Everyone in the poor woman’s life wonders what she could possibly do with the money and she comes up with a pretty damn unexpected plan: she pays a struggling infomercial production company to give her a daily talk show. The subject of every episode is herself, with segments ranging from telephone fights with her mother to reenactments of sad moments in her past that tend to conclude with her screaming such charming phrases at the actors playing her former enemies as, “Fuck you to death.” The show is clearly a trainwreck taking advantage of a damaged woman’s prolonged televised meltdown, yet Alice can’t get enough and viewers start to slowly discover the program.
So, it’s not exactly a conventional comedy set up to say the least, but it is a rather brilliant one. First time screenwriter Eliot Laurence brings some healthy satirical rage to the proceedings by tearing down everything from the self-esteem movement to the ironic appreciation of trash culture. There’s a bitterness to the worldview of the movie, but never any contempt for the central character. It would have been easy for the filmmakers to rely on cheap freak show laughs exploiting how sad and disturbed Alice truly is. Yet, somehow there’s an odd empathy in play that prevents any such ugly issues from rearing their head. Much of that comes down to Wiig’s performance. She’s fully invested in the role that plays like a more psychologically grounded version of her mousy oddballs from SNL, yet never cues the audience too much to Alice’s interior life. Even after 87 minutes of digging through the baggage of the character’s past for painful laughs, Alice remains impossible to predict and deeply funny, yet also poignantly tragic. She’s ill both from mental disorders and a sheltered life defined by self-help television binging, but also humanly sad. Despite all of the nonsense Alice plays out in her fractured fairy tale fantasy, you can’t help but hope that she’ll turn out ok.
The film is filled with bitterly funny laughs that catch in the throat and demand uncomfortable thought. Director Shira Piven finds the right balance between heightening the style of her movie ever so slightly for some outrageous set pieces that belong on Tim & Eric, yet never loses sight of the fragile reality of the situation that offers far more depth than mere sardonic comedy. That’s not to say that the movie is perfect, of course. By dialing in on Alice so intensely, there’s never enough screen time for the supporting characters to elevate them above joke factories, exposition machines, or reflections of the protagonist. Thankfully, Piven at least minimizes this issue by filling the supporting roles with the likes of Cardellini, Robbins, Joan Cusack, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Wes Bentley, Alan Tudyk, and James Marsden. The cast are all too damn talented to disappear into the background and add depth where there shouldn’t be any. What emerges is a nasty dark comedy with a distinct point of view and a surprisingly humane aftertaste. A brilliantly profane and subversive enterprise that earns a few gooey feelings at the end without sacrificing the twisted tone that makes the whole experience so special. This is one of those movies that only a fraction of the audience will like, but that fraction will consider it a demented favorite for years to come.