REVIEW: Welcome to Me

8 05 2015

Welcome to MeSeeing as how she got her start on “Saturday Night Live,” Kristen Wiig is certainly no stranger to satire.  While her work on that topical comedy show often brilliantly pointed out human error and ridicule, most of it pales in comparison to her scathingly incisive new film, “Welcome to Me.”  Eliot Laurence’s script cuts deep to probe some of our society’s deepest insecurities and fears.

He pinpoints that these collective anxieties find assuaging in the self-help gospel preached by daytime talk show hosts like Oprah Winfrey.  Take away the free car giveaways, though, and the program really just sold herself as a product.  (Who other than Oprah has ever graced the cover of O Magazine?)  “Welcome to Me” takes this narcissism to its logical extreme, following Wiig’s Alice Klieg as she uses her millions in lottery earnings to mount a show about her, for her.

Her talk show/broadcasted therapy session is not made by her, however.  To get on the air and look impressive, Alice requires the talents of producers at a local television studio.  At Live Alchemy, she finds the perfect blend of dead airspace, crushing company debt, and morally bankrupt executives willing to indulge her every desire.

Led by the slimily obsequious Rich (James Marsden), the station caters to each of Alice’s increasingly bizarre whims, even when they cross the line into literal slander and figurative self-flagellation.  It’s not hard to imagine similar board room meetings taking place at E! debating the Kardashian family.  Alice suffers from a clinically diagnosed personality disorder and manifest her symptoms rather clearly, yet no employee seems willing to protect her from herself so long as the checks keep cashing.  Consider it a less violent first cousin to “Nightcrawler” (or dare I even say, the golden goose that is “Network”).

Kristen Wiig Welcome to Me

Wiig walks a fine line in “Welcome to Me” with the utmost poise and polish.  On the one hand, she has to play Alice with enough absurdity to outdo the current crop of reality stars in order to make the ridiculousness of her show believable and hilarious.  At the same time, she also must be respectful to those suffering from mental illnesses by grounding Alice’s issues in a painful reality.  Wiig’s brilliant performance turns Alice into quite the double-edged sword, drawing blood while tickling the funny bone.

Unfortunately, director Shira Piven undermines the efficacy of Wiig’s work by lightening the tone of “Welcome to Me” in the homestretch.  Some of the groundwork for the softening the landing comes from Laurence’s script, admittedly.  It devolves into a more standard redemptive arc for Alice, changing her role from the target of our ire to the recipient of our sympathy.

Instead of maintaining its searing spirit, the film puts some ointment on the burn.  Might as well feel the whole sting, rather than trying to slap on a hunky-dory ending like a standard studio comedy.  It’s somewhat hard to believe all can be well and good after an hour of being told otherwise by the film.  B2halfstars

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