' ' Cinema Romantico: Welcome to Me

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Welcome to Me

After winning $86 million in the lottery, Alice Klieg (Kristen Wiig), a habitual TV watcher suffering from personality disorder, makes like her idol Oprah and goes to a small-time television studio peddling blandly terrible infomercials and makes the pitch of her lifetime. Not a pitch really, not when she can back up every demand with a gigantic check that definitely won’t bounce. No, she orders Rich (James Marsden) to put her on the air, and with his company struggling, he is only too happy to take her money and fulfill her bizarre requests. And in the moments before she first ascends the studio stage, in front of family and friends, she stands before an LCD TV and straddles it, declaring that soon she will be inside it. That sounds creepy, sure, but inside a TV is where everybody who’s anybody wants to be these days.

“Welcome to Me” walks a fine line, mixing mental illness with a satire of the television industry and the incessant narcissism that anymore defines it. The grand absurdity of Alice’s vision is a little like “UHF” if George Newman was suffering from psychosis. Her show is a vaguely defined variety hour, flitting from cooking to poor white trash mysticism to neutering dogs to re-enacting moments from Alice’s childhood that become terrifyingly real. The only thing you can really say it’s about is precisely what Alice says it’s about – her.

There’s a fairly evident and mordant parallel to Alice and our multitude of real-life Reality TV stars paraded across our TV screens simply to fill a half-hour or an hour in the schedule on some network deep in the catacombs of DirecTV. Sometimes these people quite plainly suffer from psychological problems – small, big, in-between, or worse. Watching them in increments on DVR to pass the time, or in the background while tending to chores, it’s easy to become disconnected from the genuine ails inflicting them, simply taking away the edited-up drama and nothing else. And even if they are edited as a means to sculpt pseudo-personalities and maximize drama, these are still real people

For a good long while, “Welcome to Me” effectively explores this rift between our culture and the people thrust into TV timeslots for our amusement. Even as Rich smiles and slaps backs, denying what he’s seeing to the tune of $15 million-plus, the show’s director (Joan Cusack, impressively maintaining an unamused face from first reel to last) can’t ever come to grips. Even when she becomes part of the show, speaking off camera as a kind of Voice of God, she’s an angry god. Another employee (Jennifer Jason Leigh) quits. You might eventually feel like following suit.

Money, fame and power change Alice. She abandons her best friend (Linda Cardellini) in her hour of need and she starts sleeping around, inadvertently playing a couple guys against each other, Rich’s sorta-sadsack brother and a college student in a pair of undercooked subplots possessing resolutions are far too tame. It’s there that the film can’t quite disguise its fairly conventional soul. She turns back around from a narcissistic millionaire to a loving, caring person who just needs a little help and her own version of a hug-it-out telethon to get back on the right track. Meanwhile her psychiatrist, played with a wonderful low-key humanness by Tim Robbins, a character who should be the most vital to Alice’s entire existence, is shuffled offstage.

It would be some supremely wicked satire if it wasn’t so sincerely sweet. “Welcome to Me” starts out knowing that we all have the TV on all the time, but it toils under the impression that once we turn it off, us and everyone else trapped inside it is hunky-dory.

1 comment:

Daryl said...

You have no idea how happy it makes me that you have a picture of her in the swan boat.