Like most actors who make their name on Saturday Night Live, Kristen Wiig started out in movies doing broadly comedic roles not far removed from the characters she played on the show. And like many such actors, she subsequently demonstrated that she could make the transition to more dramatic fare, with results both impressive (The Skeleton Twins) and not-so-impressive (Hateship Loveship). There’s no precedent, however, for her latest picture, Welcome To Me, which combines those two modes in a way that can only be described as utterly bizarre. At its core, it’s a serious drama in which Wiig plays someone every bit as demented as Gilly or Penelope (the closest equivalent, for those who recall the Digital Shorts, is actually Virgania Horsen), who’s behaving that way in a real-world context because she’s mentally ill. The bold, arresting movie doesn’t really work, but is nonetheless almost impossible to stop watching.
At first, Welcome To Me appears to be set sometime in the ’80s, since Wiig’s character, Alice Klieg, has an apartment filled with VHS cassettes on which she’s recorded infomercials and Oprah episodes. It’s actually the present day, though, and a visit Alice makes to her therapist (Tim Robbins) reveals that she has borderline personality disorder, symptoms of which include “intense or uncontrollable emotional triggers” and “self-damaging behavior.” Impulsivity, another symptom, rears its ugly head when Alice, who has stopped taking her medication, wins $86 million in the California state lottery. After watching a modern-day infomercial featuring two business-owning brothers, Gabe (Wes Bentley) and Rich (James Marsden), she approaches them with a proposal. She wants to host her own talk show, Welcome To Me, with segments devoted to cooking, telling random anecdotes, re-enacting childhood traumas, and castrating dogs on-air (seriously). The company’s producers (Joan Cusack and Jennifer Jason Leigh) object, but the cash-strapped brothers accept Alice’s $15-million check and let her do whatever she wants.
Penned by first-time screenwriter Eliot Laurence and directed by Shira Piven (sister of Jeremy), Welcome To Me can’t quite figure out what to do with this ludicrous premise. Elements of it echo Network, the 1976 classic in which a news anchor retains his job after he clearly loses his mind, because he’s boosting ratings. This film is fundamentally realistic, though, and doesn’t pretend that the American viewing public would get excited about what’s basically a public-access show hosted by someone with a mental illness. At the same time, nobody involved wants to appear as if they’re making fun of mental illness, so Alice’s eccentricities, and Wiig’s performance, are amusing only in a desperately sad sort of way. (When Alice gets stark naked in public, it’s her low point—not even vaguely as uproarious as when, say, a Will Ferrell character gets stark naked in public.) In the end, Welcome To Me chickens out, devoting its warm-and-fuzzy finale to Alice’s belated realization that she’s been mean to her longtime best friend, Gina (Linda Cardellini). Wiig can still weird it up with the best of ’em, but nobody wants to see Virgania Horsen struggle to experience personal growth.