Kristin Wiig runs wild—and transcends her sketch comedy roots—as a truly strange character ‘Welcome to Me’
In her new dramady Welcome to Me, Kristin Wiig transcends hilarity, crossing over into a twilight zone between sketch comedy and performance art. It’s recommended viewing for people who adore Wiig and her soulful embodiments of extremely strange women.
The ever-surprising Wiig plays a woman called Kleig, like the light. Alice Kleig lives in a desert town just outside Los Angeles. She is a borderline personality disorder case, who spends her time sitting alone in her small studio apartment surrounded by her ceramic swan collection, watching Oprah. Despite the warnings of her shrink (Tim Robbins), she’s gone off her meds in favor of a high-protein diet that she has read will calm her many moods.
After hitting it big with an $86 million lottery ticket, the longtime fan of nutrition infomercials decides to produce her own daytime TV show. She burns up a fortune creating what an overenthusiastic media student (Thomas Mann) later describes as “The first narrative infomercial.” It’s two hours of whatever she wants—blurted confessions, reenactments of difficult past experiences she hasn’t been able to process, and painfully awkward silences.
In cooking segments, Alice devours her alarmingly high-protein dishes in real time, as the employees of the public-access TV studio (Jennifer Jason Leigh and Joan Cusack among them) watch, aghast. The plot is reminiscent of the life of Florence Foster Jenkins—the kind of performer whose fortunes kept them going when talent wouldn’t.
Wiig is an insane smolderer. Her acting in Welcome to Me is on par with performance artist Anne McGuire’s 1997 piece “I Am Crazy and You’re Not Wrong,” where McGuire plays a 1960s chanteuse working over an abjectly autobiographical tune as a ritual of self-cleansing. The film also recalls Catherine O’Hara, circa 1983, as SCTV songbird Lola Heatherton, performing “You’re All Just Parasites Draining Me of Love,” silently whinnying from the effects of too many amphetamines.
There seems to be a trace of a molestation joke in the original cut of Welcome to Me. What exactly happened to Alice in Canada? From evidence we glimpse on a TV monitor in the studio, one of Alice’s reenactments is concerned with the story of how she was mishandled by a Mountie when she was a little girl. It would certainly explain a sketch we do see, a puppet theater piece Alice puts on about having been institutionalized by a Canadian judge.
It’s better if the roots of Alice’s illness are more mysterious—it’s not always One Big Trauma that disturbs brain chemicals. Wiig gets closer to the reality of such a malady than you’d get in a serious actorly film. She suffers from the humiliation of her disease—wrath, breakdowns and a naked walk of shame. But she’s also been given untroubled exhibitionism, a hypnotic sultriness, and a completely unfettered libido. No dramatic actor could have had as much fun with the principle “crazy in the head, crazy in bed” as Wiig does here. If she were a man, she’d be getting the reviews Bradley Cooper got in Silver Linings Playbook.
Shira Piven’s unobtrusive direction leaves some troubled relationships requiring fast closure. Redwood City’s Linda Cardinelli is very warm as Gina, Alice’s best friend (she’s also Mrs. Hawkeye in Age of Ultron, representing the world of non-Avengers). But Gina seems strangely surprised that Alice acts narcissistic—they’d been friends since childhood and she had never seen that behavior before?
The standard way of dealing with a potentially unattractive lead character is to give them a pet dog. Alice ends up with a tribe of dogs, but they don’t get enough close-ups to sweeten Alice for the kind of viewer who thinks that enough love can cure mental problems. The happy ending is available to all: it’s the solace of the TV that is the ultimate constant for Alice—it’ll always be there for her.
Welcome To Me With Kristin Wiig, Tim Robbins, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Joan Cusack. Written by Eliot Laurence. Directed by Shira Piven. Rated R. 105 minutes. PHOTO: Kristin Wiig is an insane smolderer in the silly and sad Welcome to Me.