Kristen Wiig continues to grow as a performer in “Welcome to Me,” which makes use of her singular comedic gifts, tempered in this film with a truly weird streak of drama and pathos. Everything about her role, as mentally ill adult Alice Kleig, has the signature of a truly personal interpretation. The result is a film for which the term “quirky” just scratches the surface. Alice is an unforgettable character that could only belong to Wiig.
Alice has borderline personality disorder. She ekes out a highly specialized existence, supporting herself on disability benefits and creating a world that is tolerable to her. She lives alone in an apartment full of VHS tapes of “Oprah,” her favorite television show, and has an old TV set that she has left on for 11 years. She sees a therapist (Tim Robbins) as a required condition of her benefits, and believes she can control her decades-old problems with a high-protein diet instead of Abilify.
Alice wins the California lottery and with her $86 million, and her sweet, patient best friend (Linda Cardellini), moves into a casino. The women attend a live taping of an infomercial beloved by Alice, for a high-protein powder sold by Wes Bentley, and Alice quickly gains the stage as an audience participant. Eager to talk about herself on television, Alice declares her wish to have her own talk show, entirely about herself. Bentley’s brother and business partner, played by James Marsden, quickly realizes that Alice’s unwise expenditures can save their faltering television studio and agrees to produce her show.
While Wiig neither wrote nor directed this film, she deftly handles a character that could easily have been a caricature or worse. When a comedy is about a sick person, you can get a little queasy essentially laughing at that person’s problems, but this film walks the line between sympathy and comedy and, despite being nutty and over the top, also feels realistic.
Alice’s two-hour show, “Welcome to Me,” is a bizarre and disturbing stream of consciousness extravaganza, in which she bakes and consumes a ground beef cake, reenacts upsetting scenes from childhood with actors and, eventually, neuters her own dog. She records her own opening song and rides out in a rolling swan boat. She is bursting with suspect ideas, and the staff gives in to every one of them. In one scene, a veteran producer weeps with frustration at a production meeting.
As her show gains a bit of momentum and even a few intrigued fans, Alice’s self-confidence grows and she moves ahead even more recklessly with her tell-all segments. Her friends, family and those working on the show exhibit a funny and interesting array of responses to her alternately aggressive and retiring personality. Even the brothers who take her money give her what she asks for, even if they know she shouldn’t have it.
Wiig’s amazing performance anchors the film, of course, but the supporting cast rounds out the story perfectly. Cardellini (“Freaks and Geeks”) is touching as Wiig’s put-upon best friend. Bentley almost matches Wiig in portraying emotional damage. I particularly enjoyed Joan Cusack as the producer who grudgingly comes to respect Alice. This film is almost as bizarre as its subject, and not to be missed.
“Welcome to Me” is playing on VOD and in select cities, but thanks to Hoopla, a program through the Mobile Public Library, you can also stream it for free. A huge selection of films is available on Hoopla, but “Welcome to Me” is the first title to premier there on the same day it opened in theaters. Get your library card and visit www.mplonline.org to sign up for your Hoopla account. They also have music, e-books and audiobooks.