By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — As lead actress, co-producer, and co-screenwriter, Kristen Wiig made the transition from television to movies look easy in 2011’s Bridesmaids.

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And as she demonstrated countless times during seven seasons on TV’s “Saturday Night Live,” she is a brilliantly inventive and idiosyncratic comedic actress.

But that doesn’t mean that every character she concocts and displays during a funny or oddball (or both) seven-minute TV sketch (such as “Target Lady,” “Gilly,” or “Penelope”) would pass muster stretched over the course of a feature-length film -– that is to say, well beyond its breaking point.

 

(1½ stars out of 4)

(1½ stars out of 4)

 

That becomes apparent in Welcome to Me, a daringly dark comedy that calls for Wiig’s particular skills but that grates and irritates to such a degree, it ends up seeming wildly self-indulgent, as if one of Wiig’s trademark characters on SNL was given the entire hour and a half instead of a tiny fraction of it.

In Welcome to Me, Wiig plays Alice Klieg, a woman in Palm Desert, Calif. who has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and doesn’t always take her meds.

When she hits the jackpot by winning $86 million in the California state lottery, she -– big fan of Oprah Winfrey that she is –- thrusts herself into the spotlight by writing a very big check and buying her own cable-access talk show, a vanity project which she plans to host.

This staggering demonstration of narcissism run amok is called “Welcome to Me,” and in it she shares just who she is and what she cares about and what she has gone through with the world by staging reenactments of incidents from various stages of a life that she finds a heck of a lot more fascinating than we do.

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Although you could read Wiig’s challenge here as being a furthering of the dramatic direction she moved in with last year’s The Skeleton Twins, it’s really more of a quirkfest, one of her infuriating and oblivious TV sketch characters times ten.

As it does for Alice, Eliot Lawrence’s script seems to give Wiig free rein and it becomes an invitation to an astonishing and off-putting level of self-indulgence that director Shira Piven (Fully Loaded), the sister of actor Jeremy Piven, is apparently fine with.

As for the talented supporting cast (which includes Tim Robbins as Alice’s therapist, Linda Cardellini as her best friend, James Marsden and Wes Bentley as the brothers who co-own the struggling cable station, and Joan Cusack and Jennifer Jason Leigh as skeptical producers), they’re given little to do in this exhibitionistic star vehicle but be observers of Wiig’s riffs.

That Alice’s behavior makes us uncomfortable is fine: it’s designed to. But when our discomfort lasts this long and swerves this far away from laugh or insight territory, when our admiration for the attempt being made to create a movie that is anything but generic goes this far off the rails, when our enjoyment level dips so low that we marvel at the overall wrongheadedness on display, and when we find ourselves wondering whether “playing it safe” might have been a better and more rewarding approach, it’s time to regroup.

So we’ll host 1½ stars out of 4 for Welcome to Me.

There’s too much “me” and not enough that’s welcome in this deadpan black comedy about self-absorption that tests our patience when it flips its Wiig.

 

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