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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: Welcome to Me

WELCOME TO ME (Two and a Half Stars)
U.S.: Shira Piven, 2015


For any of you who may have caught the Kristin Wiig comedy, Welcome to Me—a generally well-reviewed, well-regarded satire-farce-dramedy-sendup in which Ms. Wiig plays a lottery winner who buys her own TV show—and found the picture puzzlingly laughless: Hey, I sympathize. I didn’t laugh much either, except at a couple of reaction shots from Joan Cusack—who’s funny as ever as an exasperated TV infomercial producer working for Wiig‘s oddball lottery winner Alice Klieg.

I say this though as someone who likes Kristen Wiig’s work very much, and has laughed mightily both at her own top film (as writer-star), Bridesmaids, and also laughed a lot at Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. the top comedy of two of the Welcome producers here, Will Ferrell and his off-screen buddy and collaborator Adam McKay—who is also the husband of Welcome to Me‘s director, stage and comedy vet Shira Piven.

Indeed, the fact that all these certifiable funny people—along with Ms. Cusack, James Marsden, Wes Bentley and other C. F. P.s—couldn’t get more than a wisp of a chuckle out of me this time began to bother me. Others are laughing. Whence? Wherefore? What was I missing?

The premise seemed promising. Writer Eliot Laurence has imagined a playfully nutty turnabout in which Wiig as Alice—a single, TV-loving ex-animal shelter worker, who’s on disability payments, and is being treated for borderline personality disorder by an unsmilingly bemused psychiatrist named Moffat (Robbins)—wins $86 million in a lottery and decides to move out of her scruffy apartment (into a Palm Desert casino hotel), stop taking her meds, and hook up with that aforementioned TV company which she hires (for a cool 15 million) to produce a show called “Welcome to Me“—in which Alice will direct and write and star as, well, Alice. (Or Alice’s idea of Alice.)

At each of Alice’s shows, in a dinky little studio, as Joan Cusack’s Deb grimaces away—along with other appalled but cooperative producers and crew people, including the estimable Jennifer Jason Leigh as unhappy producer Dawn—Alice will make a grand entrance. She will waft in, to the paltry studio audience‘s instantaneous applause, on a swan boat (just like Ludwig of Bavaria), whereupon she will proceed on the drab set to have discussions with guests on the problems of Alice, be advised by experts or pseudo-experts on how Alice can lead a better life, and prepare peculiar dishes from Alice‘s own Favorite Recipes.

Eventually, she will present a series of playlets and sketches, written and directed by Alice, in which a troupe of actors will play Alice and her various nemeses (such as all the little girls who were nasty to her in school), and enact all those painful and embarrassing moments that helped make Alice what she is today—someone who won a lottery and has $86 million to throw around, witlessly. We can only surmise that those nasty little nemeses who may tune into the show while wasting their days, are mighty damned sorry they weren’t nicer to Alice way back when. Money talks or, in this case, babbles.

The production company, run by the Ruskin Brothers, glib Rich (James Marsden) and susceptible Gabe—(Wes Bentley)—seems delighted to take on this magnum opus of Alice iconography, even though Alice is a hard taskmaster and her ideas, which she has somehow derived from the show of her idol, Oprah Winfrey, are unfailingly ridiculous (like the swan and the playlets), or stomach-turningly tasteless (like the onscreen pet-neutering she also recreates). Soon, defying all logic, she has surprisingly high ratings, pseudo-intellectual defenders (interviewers like Thomas Mann’s Rainer who write papers on how Alice plays with race and gender), and also Gabe in the sack. But unfortunately, life and TV and this movie move on. Even 86 million can’t last forever.

All that sounds funny enough, or potentially funny. But unfortunately, Welcome to Me seems to suffer from personality disorder too: an inability to tell all these potentially funny jokes with the joyous buffoonery that would make them ignite on screen—say, to explode with some of the wild devilish relish that an old-fashioned make-‘em-laugh comedian like Red Skelton put into his classic media satire: the ‘40s mock radio commercial for “Guzzler’s Gin.” (“Smooth! Smooth!”)

The sets, instead of being amusingly dull and drab, seemed to me just dull and drab. The skits, instead of being entertainingly ludicrous, seemed just ludicrous. The direction, instead of being wittily deadpan, seemed just deadpan. And Alice‘s adventures, instead of being hilariously painful, often seemed just painful.

I had a good friend and editor once who was fond of saying, about colleagues of ours who’d had what we both considered inexplicable and largely undeserved success, that they’d “won the lottery.“ At its least funny, Welcome to Me seemed to me like a movie that had won the lottery—or actually, a script that had won the lottery, and that had broken the artistic bank. Welcome to Me, as written, didn’t deserve this good a cast.

It’s a shame. Kristen Wiig is one movie actress who can make pain and angst both believable and funny, and she’s been more adventurous and off-center in choosing her roles and her movies than her fellow cast-mate Melissa McCarthy since their Bridesmaids breakthrough. Yet while most of McCarthy’s post-Bridesmaids roles have been predictably clichéd and excessive (Guzzler‘s Gin-style without the finesse or the writing), Wiig’s have been not-always-amusingly weird (Guzzler‘s Gin without the gin). Welcome to Me is the weirdest of them. I wish it were the funniest too. But I guess, for me, the lottery hasn’t paid off, the Swan Boat doesn’t stop here anymore, and we‘re all out of Gin. Smooth!



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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon