"Welcome to Me," starring Kristen Wiig, is weirdly off center yet strangely in sync with the times.
With Shira Piven directing screenwriter Eliot Laurence's unconventional idea, the indie comedy-drama delves into our confessional times via the very meta experience of the making of a reality TV star.
The mind we'll be watching unravel on air and off is Alice Klieg's. As a borderline personality, she comes prepackaged with problems perfectly suited to reality show exploitation and the kind of comic talent that first brought Wiig to our attention during her "Saturday Night Live" days when she specialized in weird.
The charm of Alice is in all of her eccentricities. They are also the cause of the film's conflict.
Her particular brand of disorder means she is, as the saying goes, honest to a fault. Sometimes, that means reminding a good friend of her teenage bikini phobia on national TV, at others, it's more graphic — like when a sexual urge hits her. Fortunately, this doesn't happen a lot. More common is her raw emotional vulnerability.
The film begins with a glimpse of what her day-to-day existence in Palm Desert is like. The opening scenes, from the alarm going off to a walk to the corner store for her copy of O magazine and her lottery ticket, are a good example of how much can be telegraphed by the simple act of observing the right moments. Piven and director of photography Eric Edwards use the simple, stripped-down look to reflect the same innocence and lack of artifice you find in Alice.
It doesn't take long to realize that Alice doesn't just pick up Oprah Winfrey's magazine every month — she has completely embraced the live-your-own-best-life superstar. Alice plays old episodes of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" endlessly, miming every move, replicating every inflection. It also sets up much of the craziness that follows.
An $86-million lottery win changes everything in Alice's life. There are the basic things money can change, like ending the court-mandated therapy sessions with Dr. Moffat (Tim Robbins), whose suggestion that string cheese is not a substitute for her meds she quickly dismisses. And moving from her apartment to a suite of rooms at a casino.
But the real shift is the $15-million check she writes to a failing infomercial production company to create a talk show with Alice as the star, host and subject. There will be a swan boat for her entrances and reenactments of all of the slights she suffered growing up. And lifestyle segments, of course, from a cooking bit on how to make a meatloaf cake to the benefits of fixing one's pets, something she undertakes herself during one show. She was, as we learn, a vet technician, a bit of information that does nothing to reduce the cringe factor.
There are two distinct factions within Alice's world: the personal, which includes Mom (Lisa Shields) and her best friends Gina (Linda Cardellini) and Ted (Alan Tudyk), and the professional, which starts with production company chief Rich Ruskin (James Marsden) and his primary pre-Alice star, brother Gabe (Wes Bentley), who is soon romantically involved with her.
Dawn Hurley (Joan Cusack) and Deb Moseley (Jennifer Jason Leigh) handle most of the production duties and in a sense become surrogates for the journey. First, they are aghast at Alice buying her way onto TV. Slowly they become fans along with Alice's growing national audience. They are among the first to see Alice cracking.
Though some of the jabs "Me" takes at reality TV are clever, the film, like Alice, tends to fracture at key moments. What makes it worth watching is Wiig. The comic actress is fearless in giving herself over to the most awkward and unbelievable situations. Her commitment makes even Alice's absolute narcissism somehow nice.
"Welcome to Me"
MPAA rating: R, for sexual content, some graphic nudity, language and brief drug use
Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Playing: In select theaters