Combustible Celluloid
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With: Kristen Wiig, Wes Bentley, Linda Cardellini, Joan Cusack, Loretta Devine, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Thomas Mann, James Marsden, Tim Robbins, Alan Tudyk
Written by: Eliot Laurence
Directed by: Shira Piven
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content, some graphic nudity, language and brief drug use
Running Time: 86
Date: 05/08/2015

Welcome to Me (2015)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Swan Flake

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In Welcome to Me, Kristen Wiig plays Alice Klieg, a woman with borderline personality disorder. This could have gone wrong in many ways. It could have been taken seriously as a "disease-of-the-week" movie, or it could have played like a full-length version of a "Saturday Night Live" sketch (think Wiig's "Target Lady"), stretched too thin and drained of laughs. But as written by Eliot Laurence and directed by Shira Piven, the movie is not only good to the character, giving her an inner life as well as a sense of humor, but it also winds up as a rather canny satire on celebrity culture.

As it begins, Alice spends most of her time at home, watching tapes of Oprah (she has monologues memorized) and eating pudding. She has a best friend, Gina (Linda Cardellini) and some family, and can function somewhat normally. She even sees a shrink (Tim Robbins), though she has lately been avoiding taking her medications. She buys her regular lottery ticket and hits an $86 million jackpot. Without hesitating, she decides to use the money to finance her own talk show: no guests, no interviews, just Alice talking about herself.

She signs up with a struggling TV network whose chief, Rich Ruskin (James Marsden), is only happy to take her money, even though his staff (Joan Cusack, Jennifer Jason Leigh, etc.) are slightly less thrilled. Rich's brother Gabe (Wes Bentley), who sometimes hosts his own show, takes a liking to Alice, however, and they begin occasionally sleeping together. Alice's ridiculous show, which has her emerging in a swan boat, re-creating childhood traumas with actors, or baking and then eating -- silently, for five minutes -- a meatloaf cake (with sweet potato "frosting"), becomes a hit.

A student, Rainer Ybarra (Thomas Mann), even becomes interested in doing a paper on her. And, indeed, there's a fascinating duality going on. As director Piven told me when I interviewed her for the San Francisco International Film Festival, "there are not that many outlets for creative expression in our culture, but there are now a lot of outlets for self-promotion, so she thinks that's her way of being creative." Alice is also totally secure in her decisions -- she's never shaken or doubtful -- and her confidence is appealing. The movie achieves its success by remaining focused on her -- it doesn't have any particular lessons to impart -- it contains moments of weird, inspired beauty, and Wiig's performance is note-perfect.

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