Having a kernel of a great idea is the crucial first step in a film's creation, but a script that lives up to this creative initial spark is just as important. For all of the talent in front of the camera, the cast of "Welcome to Me" is let down by a rushed, underdeveloped screenplay from Eliot Laurence that fails to adequately probe the psyche of its lead character. Alice Klieg (Kristen Wiig) is ripe for explorationindeed, the story she is in practically demands that she open up about her life and what has led her to her presentbut director Shira Piven opts for shtick over substance and makes a grave miscalculation by treating her heroine's serious mental illness predominately as a lark.
Alice hasn't turned off her television set in eleven years. Every day, she rises from slumber at 12:15 p.m. and immediately dives into her videocassette recordings of old episodes of "The Oprah Winfrey Show," all of which she has long since memorized. She rarely goes out, but when she does it is usually down the street to the convenience store to pick up small provisions and lotto tickets. When Alice suddenly wins the California Stack Sweepstakes, she sees her $86-million earnings as the answer to all her problems. Refusing to heed the warnings of longtime therapist Dr. Moffat (Tim Robbins), she promptly stops taking her prescriptions to treat her borderline personality disorder, moves into a Palm Springs casino, and approaches a local television station with an offer that sibling owners Gabe (Wes Bentley) and Rich (James Marsden) cannot refuse: a $15-million check to host her very own talk show, called "Welcome to Me." Alice insists on making every decision, right down to the construction of a swan boat on which to make her grand entrance. She doesn't want to interview guests, cover human-interest stories, or discuss current events. For two hours, five days per week, she plans to focus on only one topic: herself.
"Welcome to Me" has a few funny moments as Alice's shameless narcissism and loose-cannon unpredictability transform her talk show into a can't-miss train wreck about "life, love, betrayal and cooking," but much of this dryly squirmy humor is laced with a pall of deep sadness and concern for a protagonist who is clearly psychologically unstable. Dr. Moffat tells her he is worried for her safety, but most everyone elsefrom Gabe and Rich, to show director Dawn (Joan Cusack), to best friend Gina (Linda Cardellini)are enablers who do not bother to help her as she threatens to self-destruct. The segments shown of the talk show are usually choppy bits, not focusing long enough to listen to Alice or to dig with any sort of depth into her past and who she truly is. There is an uncomfortable disconnect to the character even when she is in virtually every scene, and this is a problem area with the writing and the direction that is never adequately overcome.
Whatever faults "Welcome to Me" may have, the constantly impressive Kristen Wiig (2014's "The Skeleton Twins
") is not one of them. Exhibiting no sense of vanity, Wiig leaps without a parachute into the difficult role of Alice Klieg, a woman who is so wrapped up in herself that she only pays attention to other people when they are focusing on her. Wiig makes Alice an original, but there is no overcoming the distance at which the character holds her family, friends, acquaintances and, by extension, viewers. Her treatment is also arguably irresponsible, with the film seeming to suggest that most of her problems can be solved by simply going back on medication. Meanwhile, subplots involving her sexual, sort-of romantic relationship with Gabe, her forward interactions with a young journalist (Thomas Mann) interested in her story, and the gradual disconnect with slighted friend Gina are undernourished or don't lead anywhere at all. "Welcome to Me" is screaming for an expansion of its terrific premise and a deeper dive into Alice herself, but the potential it clearly has is whittled down by director Shira Piven into a negligible whisper.