Welcome to Me is a peculiar comedy that is both fascinating and frustrating. Alice Klieg (Kristen Wiig) collects and memorizes Oprah Winfrey’s talk shows on VHS tapes, seeking daily inspiration and affirmation from them. She has, it soon revealed, a borderline personality disorder. While she sees a therapist (Tim Robbins), she claims that she is “managing her moods with a high protein diet.”
Such deadpan moments provide many of the awkwardly amusing laughs in Welcome to Me. But Alice’s behavior is a concern to almost everyone she encounters. When she wins $86 million in a state lottery, she is given an even broader berth to do what she wants. This includes moving into a reservation casino and buying time on a Palm Desert, CA TV station to host her own talk show/narrative infomercial entitled, “Welcome to Me.”
Not surprisingly, the vanity production prompts contempt from staffers, (Joan Cusack, Jennifer Jason Leigh). However, Alice does capture the attention of Gabe (Wes Bentley) one of the station’s other hosts, who begins a romantic relationship with her. Meanwhile, Gabe’s greedy brother, Rich (James Marsden), the station owner, is interested in Alice’s money to save their dying business.
Welcome to Me plays to the comedic actress’s strengths. The film provides a nimble showcase for her narcissistic character to change moods on a whim and deliver some caustic (and unprintable) one-liners as she becomes an emotional exhibitionist on TV. From Alice mispronouncing words like “carbohydrates” to graphic scenes of her neutering pets on live TV, the extremes of her experiences are portrayed in an unflinching manner that will either delight or disturb viewers.
Throughout the film, Alice finds comfort in swans, but the ugly duckling metaphor does not quite work because Alice’s transformation is rather unsatisfying. She is more pathetic than sympathetic, making it hard to care about her atoning for her bad behavior after she stops taking her meds. To her credit, Wiig does deliver a fine sad clown performance, with mournful expressions that capture her despair and depression. It makes sense why this role appealed to her. But as Alice marches to the beat of her own drummer, the music is revealed to be the sound of one hand clapping.
Welcome to Me spends large chunks of its running time on Alice’s show, which includes segments entitled, “Someone’s been tampering with my makeup bag!” and “Smelling things before they happen,” or scenes that recreate a childhood trauma. These episodes are meant to work out Alice’s emotional issues, but the program—and, by extension, the film—is so discomfiting, viewers will likely stare in disbelief, like the station employees, aghast at how awful it is.
Welcome to Me opens today at the Roxy.
Author: Gary M. Kramer
Gary M. Kramer is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer and film critic. He is the co-editor of the forthcoming book, Directory of World Cinema: Argentina. Follow him on twitter @garymkramer.