ALICE KLIEG (Kristen Wiig) is a woman you probably wouldn't be friends with. She's self-absorbed, needy, socially clueless, and kinda mean. Against the advice of her therapist (Tim Robbins), she quits taking Abilify and decides to manage her borderline personality disorder by eliminating carbs and eating a lot of string cheese. She never turns off her TV, and she has an apartment filled with Oprah tapes. As Welcome to Me begins, Alice wins $86 million in the lottery, and things could really turn around for her.
But instead, Alice uses that $86 million to create a talk show about herself. Its title? Welcome to Me. Its theme? Alice. Just... Alice. She enters the stage riding in a swan boat; she sings her own theme song; she spends a five-minute segment eating meatloaf cake. Bizarrely, Alice's otherwise sane-seeming support structure—her best friend Gina (Linda Cardellini), her gay ex-husband (Alan Tudyk), and her parents—don't intervene, and a failing television network is totally okay with exploiting her Oprah aspirations (Oprahations?) by airing whatever she says.
If this sounds slightly painful to watch, yes, you're right. It is. And I have no fucking clue how I feel about it.
Alice is cut from the same "awkward protagonist" cloth as Napoleon Dynamite, and as a result, watching Welcome to Me sometimes feels as dated as your "Vote for Pedro" T-shirt. There's a whole lot of intentionally, even abrasively "goofy" stuff that's meant to underline Alice's awkwardness: She loves unicorns. She wears a fanny pack. She wears dresses that are meant to be weird but would in fact be immediately snatched up by any of you hipsters at Red Light.
But Alice becomes uniquely relatable—not because of her forced underdogness, but in spite of it. I suppose you might manage to overlook Alice's clueless persona and come to care about her and her talk show, just as the viewers in her universe do. At the very least, you'll be intrigued. A popular segment on Welcome to Me consists of Alice recreating her childhood moments with actors portraying incidents in which she feels she was wronged. Alice participates from behind the camera, sometimes by shouting things like "FUCK YOU TO DEATH, JORDANA!" (Jordana may or may not have once stolen Alice's lipstick in high school.) Who wouldn't want to revisit a 20-year-old grudge on television? I know I would have some things to say! (Wonder who I'm talking about? Give me a TV show and find out.)
Welcome to Me keeps you off-balance: It treats some things very preciously, and others not at all. Even though the film deals with a major mental illness, it never takes the predictable redemption path to make its protagonist all that likeable. I might be way too accustomed to traditional Hollywood story arcs to connect here. Or maybe I'm thinking way too hard? Maybe that's the point?
So I'm conflicted. I want to tell you to see it, because it's got some good stuff, and the supporting cast is a delight (in addition to Cardellini, Robbins, and Tudyk, there's James Marsden, Joan Cusack, Wes Bentley, and Jennifer Jason Leigh). And it's definitely engaging. But at the same time, I can't totally recommend it, because at this point, we're all familiar with Wiig's mumbling, smileless characters, and if you, like all of us, saw Napoleon Dynamite, you've already got a pretty good idea of what you'll get with Welcome to Me.
Whatever. Everybody is confusing and weird. So if you need to ride that swan boat all the way to the movie theater of your messed-up dreams, go for it. And who said film critics have to have a fully formed opinion anyway?