Kristen Wiig fans, rejoice. The ‘SNL‘ alumnus continues to quietly and steadily segue from sketch comedy on the small screen to feature length comedy on the big one, while still retaining her instinctive knack for hilarious shenanigans. “Bridesmaids” started her ascent, and we’ve already seen her this year in “The Skeleton Twins” (reviewed here) opposite fellow funnyman Bill Hader. Now comes Shara Piven’s “Welcome To Me,” where Wiig carries an entire film for the first time. Melissa McCarthy may have stolen her thunder in “Bridesmaids,” and there’s usually a Hader or a Ben Stiller (“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”) around to share the weight. Not so in ‘Me,’ a one-woman show from start to finish.
The comedienne plays Alice Klieg, a 30-something recluse who hasn’t turned off her television set for 11 years. Her time is spent cooped up in her studio apartment, watching late night infomercials about parakeets, playing the Mega-Millions lottery sweepstakes, or binge-watching her idol Oprah Winfrey‘s show. She has one notable friend in Gina (Linda Cardellini), who works in a local gym, and continues to visit her shrink Dr. Moffat (Tim Robbins) for counseling, although she has recently decided to forego her medication in place of a high-protein diet. Alice has been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder since her teens and has been living off the state of California through disability insurance for many years. But one night her entire life changes when she miraculously wins the Mega-Millions sweepstakes and becomes $86 million richer.
“I am a winner at any time,” she repeats to a recording, but not without choking on the words for a few beats. Even though her entire life has turned upside down, Alice doesn’t go into crazed hysterics. She takes the news with poise, since Oprah has impressed the power of positive thinking upon her. Gina, her befuddled parents (“sour pussies”), and her ex-husband (Alan Tudyk), who has since come out of the closet, are all extremely happy for Alice, who has prepared a statement (she does this often) to explain that these millions mean she can become a new Alice. She moves into a hotel casino on an indefinite basis and continues to binge on late-night TV. This is where she first sees Gabe (Wes Bentley) selling alchemically enhanced food products on the tube, and she decides to visit the studio where he shoots the commercials as an audience member. Soon she grabs the cameraman’s attention, announces how rich she is, and makes her first demand to showrunner Rich (James Marsden). She will pay $15 million to be the star, producer, make-up artist, and theme songwriter, among other things, of a new TV show about her life, dreams, hopes, and opinions.
This is how “Welcome To Me” is born, a request that Rich can’t deny, seeing as the ratings of all his shows are so low and he needs the money. The bulk of the film sees the TV show grow more and more ridiculous as Alice’s demands increase to insane proportions. The film is a mocking commentary on the ludicrous nature of reality TV and pretentious daytime talk shows, and tucked away under the surface is a severe portrayal of a socially debilitating disorder. For the most part, ‘Me’ is an uproarious comedy, which may not sit too well with advocates for the mentally unwell, but then we would have to ask if these people have ever heard of Kristen Wiig. Her one attempt at drama, “Hateship, Loveship,” aside, Wiig has made a career of being a tremendously funny lady.
The pitch for the film likely sounded like one of her ‘SNL’ skits extended into a feature film, and while some might consider that a bad thing, for us it can only ever be very good. Some of Alice’s demands include entering the stage on a swan-ship, singing her own theme song, constantly changing the style of the opening credits, eating a piece of cake on TV for five straight minutes, and having various actors re-enact her childhood with name tags indicating who is who. None of this would be as funny if it was done by anyone other than Wiig, who has never been funnier. Her crass, narcissistic, capricious Alice is her greatest creation.
The film starts to lose us when it takes a dramatic turn, which is left for the third, predictably sentimental act. It’s not that Wiig can’t pull off drama or moments of darkness, but Piven’s direction and Eliot Laurence’s screenplay can’t seem to get a balanced handle as such. The ensemble cast, which includes Joan Cusack as a programming supervisor, all do a solid job of supporting Wiig, but “Welcome To Me” is all about one lady. Without so much as the briefest cameo from an ‘SNL’ colleague, or producer Will Ferrell, we are spoiled by the comedic capabilities of Kristen Wiig, an expert doing what she does best. We wouldn’t really want it any other way. [B]
This is a reprint of our review from the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.