Directed by: Shira Piven
Premise: A woman with borderline personality disorder (Kristen Wiig) wins the lottery and uses her money to buy a television talk show.
What Works: Actress Kristen Wiig is primarily identified as a comic actress due to her performances in movies like Bridesmaids and her tenure on Saturday Night Live. But since achieving mainstream success Wiig has been making movies that are less comic, or less obviously comedic, and channel the awkwardness of her SNL characters. In some respects, Wiig’s career is similar to Bill Murray, another Saturday Night Live alumnus, in that she’s embraced offbeat characters in movies that don’t fit neatly within the comedy genre. The movies that Wiig has been involved with veer widely between success and failure but when these projects work, as in The Skeleton Twins and Hateship Loveship, Wiig often creates interesting characters in pictures that are both comic and dramatic. In Welcome to Me Kristen Wiig is back in familiar territory. Like her other roles in offbeat movies, Wiig’s character in this picture suffers from light mental illness and she has a vibrant interior life that is concealed by a withdrawn demeanor. Against the wishes of her doctor (Tim Robbins) she has gone off of her medication just as she wins a massive lottery fortune which she uses to purchase a daytime television show from a struggling broadcasting studio. This is a very unlikely series of events but the story smartly positions all of its characters in such a way that this turn of events is credible. As she develops her show, Wiig’s character attempts to transform herself into a cross between Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey, performing homemaking demonstrations while espousing a New Age notion of pseudo self-empowerment. The show becomes a platform for the mentally ill host to work out her own issues as she creates dramatic reenactments of humiliating moments in her personal life, villainizing the people she believes has done her wrong. Of course, instead of being therapeutic it makes her situation worse while her antics make her show successful. Welcome to Me succeeds as a character study but also as light satire of daytime television programming, the mistaken importance placed on media personalities, and the emotional exhibitionism of contemporary culture as seen in reality television and social media. The filmmakers of Welcome to Me handle the material with deftness and the film is both engaging and cringe inducing.
What Doesn’t: Welcome to Me is a movie that is so strange and has such an odd combination of characters and events that finding the right ending for it was going to be inherently challenging. The plot of the movie doesn’t point toward an obvious or logical conclusion and so it’s unsurprising that the ending of the picture is less than satisfying. But the climax of Welcome to Me plays as though the filmmakers didn’t even try to come up with something as strange or as unique as the rest of the picture. Instead the filmmakers opt for a redemptive happy ending. It’s a sugary feel-good climax that’s out of step with the tone of the film but that is largely corrected in the denouement as the unstable television host settles into a final position that is more consistent with her character. But the shortcomings of the climax are indicative of the way that Welcome to Me shies away from some of its potential. There are ideas and plot points that are positioned to go much further than they do; this film has shades of Network but it never blows up into the full absurdity of pictures like that. It may be that pushing Welcome to Me further into the realm of satire would diminish its character study or require a scale that was outside the means of the production.
DVD extras: Featurettes, trailers.
Bottom Line: Despite a flawed ending, Welcome to Me is a smart character study that’s surprisingly involving. The movie is quite funny but in an absolutely deadpan way that may only appeal to a limited audience but those who get it will enjoy it.
Episode: #556 (August 23, 2015)