"I was a summer baby born in 1971 in Simi Valley, California, and I've been using masturbation as a sedative since 1991"
Alice Klieg (Kristen Wiig) is a young woman suffering from borderline personality disorder who has a fascination with Oprah. Against the wishes of her therapist (Tim Robbins) she has decided to go off her meds in an attempt to create a “new Alice”. This occurs when by chance Alice wins the California state lottery and decides to buy her own talk show on a local cable access channel. As her show progresses and gains more popularity her relationships with her family and friends begin to fall apart as does her mental state.
Every year a few films are released that illicit a performance from an actor that elevates them beyond the heights of performance you previously thought they were capable of, “Welcome to Me” is one of those films and Kristen Wiig’s performance is nothing short of brilliant. Fans of Wiig from back in her days on “Saturday Night Live” always recognized her as a comedic force to be reckoned with but it’s only lately that’s she’s started dipping her toes into the pool of drama. While lasts years “The Skeleton Twins” gave us a good glimpse at what she is capable of when portraying an emotional damaged individual, this film goes above and beyond. Wiig’s portrayal of Alice is a performance where the actor truly leaves it all up on the screen, bearing her soul emotionally for the audience to look at, whether it be in the moments of extreme emotional outbursts that Alice has while on her show or her more quiet moments of self reflection and misunderstanding, Wiig has announced herself in the world of dramatic acting with this role loud and clear.
Wiig is surrounded a by brilliant supporting cast that only aid her in the telling of the story. Wes Bentley, who plays a damaged (however slightly less so than Alice) executive producer on her show that she soon finds a simpatico with, injects a great innocence into his character that works as a brilliant yin to Alice’s over emotional yang. Similarly, the always amazing Linda Cardellini shines once more as Alice’s always reliable yet always put upon best friend Gina, a woman whose compassion and understanding for her friend seemingly knows no bounds. With heavy hitters such as Joan Cusack, James Marsden and Jennifer Jason Leigh rounding out the cast, audiences can be assured there is not a sour performance note in the entire film.
In her direction, Shira Piven manages to do something that sophomore directors seldom achieve, she sits back and lets her actors rule. Instead of overpowering the film with flashy visuals or innovative/experimental techniques, she finds restraint and let’s the narrative and the performances drive the piece rather than the visuals. That’s not to say it’s a bad looking film, far from it, Piven and Director of Photography Eric Alan Edwards craft a visual style that help to heighten (not detract from) the emotions being felt by Alice, giving the audience a sense of isolation and abandonment with the way they frame the films desert setting.
The film, which premiered last year at the Toronto Film Festival seems to have had trouble finding an audience, with most people expecting a comedy (probably due to the casting of Kristen Wiig and the marketing campaign that does little to present it otherwise), make no mistake that, while yes it does have humorous elements, the film is indeed a drama and one of the best of the year so far. Balancing the lighter moments with the heavier emotional beats is a tightrope act that Piven and her cast manage to execute with the most outstanding grace, culminating in a magnificent film with a dazzling performance at it’s core.
8.5 out of 10.
Reviewed by Chris Swan.