Oh, you want to watch a movie with America's sweetheart, Kristen Wiig? (Admittedly, I am hoisting that title upon her, but I'm also weirdly standing by it.) Perhaps your sister-in-law finds her hilarious because she gives the impression that she wouldn't do anything too out there? Well you would be wrong to have a movie night with your wife's siblings to watch a fairly disturbing movie involving nudity, graphic sex, and pretty disturbing language. This one is rated "R".
DIRECTOR: Shira Piven
Yeah, that was an awkward evening. In the first half of the movie, there's a fairly explicit sex scene. There was arguing over fast forwarding. Thank goodness it was quick because I stopped the movie and said, "Do we want to stop here?" It wouldn't have been the end of the world and I'm sure family members would be able to look each other in the eyes. But everyone got all wishy-washy. The vibe of the room was "That had to be the worst of it, right?" It wasn't. It all boiled down to the fact that Kristen Wiig is usually pretty funny. And she is. She's remarkably funny. I think I laughed harder than anyone in the room. (That tends to be the case and it mortifies my wife when we are in the theater.) It's just that there are moments where it is really hard to call this movie a comedy, despite the fact that it is funny.
Welcome to Me is a genre almost entirely based on its feel. Back in the '90s, people would just call movies "indie movies." That's not really a genre because it has absolutely nothing to do with the plot. But this grouping, as stupid as it sounds, is kind of accurate. They were movie that seem to be made on a shoestring budget that often were challenging to traditional filmmaking conventions. Often, that sense of "make it work" defined it far better than the actual content of the piece and that filmmaking affected the way that the audience interacted with the work. Welcome to Me would kind of fall in that category. It has more of a budget than an early Linklater, but it doesn't exactly throw money at the screen, despite the fact that is the premise of the film itself. I suppose the direct to on demand market might be the new indie because this might be the story of Welcome to Me. As part of this model, filmmakers tend to push uncomfortable buttons because it almost doesn't seem to be about making a ton of money. (I'm sorry I'm just spewing generalizations right now, but I'm more concerned about setting up the feel of the movie rather than giving a nuanced understanding of marketing platforms.) There's something very garage band about the whole movie. If director Shira Piven chose this look to mirror the events of the film, I would say that she's a genius. There is this adulation of the garage band and their guerrilla music that is always idolized. But it is often the case that garage bands kind of suck. I used to love the rough cuts of Weezer songs, but then again, they ended up being great. Two weeks ago, I found myself lost in a YouTube hole looking at videos of terrible garage bands. Welcome to Me is about making a TV show and mirroring the true nature of the garage band. Alice Klieg, played by Kristen Wiig, throws money at an infomercial local channel to give her two hours of screen time a day. The show ends up being terrible, but people watch it because it is so terrible. In the course of this living nightmare, Klieg goes from being somewhat self-centered to full on insane, treating those around her like dirt.
The movie plays up uncomfortableness. I know a lot of people really don't care for comedy that is meant to make a viewer uncomfortable. I tend to like it. Kristen Wiig, as weird as this movie is, knows what this movie needs to really sell the awkwardness. There were times when I watched The Office (I'm looking at you, "Scott's Tots") where I desperately wanted to change the channel. I think Wiig takes it even further than that. That sympathetic tendency is really riding hard in this movie and it is because of Wiig. It's so weird because movies with a bizarre central character tend to have a lot of bizarre secondary characters. It's not to say that Wiig carries the movie all by herself, but the secondary characters tend to be grounded in reality. This makes Wiig's character all the more awkward. Probably the weakest choice, then, is the inclusion of Wes Bentley's Gabe Ruskin to the story. Gabe is the more realistic awkward character. I really wonder what the choice was on Gabe to bring him into the story. Considering that all of the other characters are so grounded, having Gabe being A- awkward is an odd choice. He's there as a love interest for Alice. "Love interest" might be a very superficial thing to call Gabe's role in the movie. To make the movie more awkward, Alice and Gabe are there to provide uncomfortable explicit content. I guess they needed something in common so the entire scene wouldn't feel predatory, but it also makes Gabe's character a distraction from Alice. It also feels like a bit of a trope. I'm thinking of Garth and his lady from Wayne's World 2. (It feels so dismissive to call her "Garth's lady". I don't want to be a member of the patriarchy, but she's fairly forgettable because she's just a Garth clone.) It is so easy to have the other weird guy pair up with the weird girl that it just feels a bit lazy.
The big question I have is "Why is anyone Alice's friend?" Linda Cardellini is in the movie. She's Alice's friend before everything starts. But Alice goes from self-centered to insane. She's also been insane before. Does Linda Cardellini feel bad for Alice? (I have closed IMDB and refuse to look her name up, so I will call her Linda Cardellini for the remainder of this review.) She seems to honestly bond with Alice, despite the fact that the relationship isn't reciprocal. I would say that makes me a bad person to claim that someone with autism is incapable of having friends. But Alice isn't autistic. I actually have no idea what to diagnose Alice with. It said that she's borderline personality disorder, but everyone who watched the movie said BPD doesn't look anything like what Kristen Wiig is doing. I mean, Alice is a fun character to watch, but I don't know if there's anything in reality that acts like that. Again, I'm not an expert, but everyone I watched this with seemed super confused about what Wiig was doing. I liked it, but it didn't look like BPD. I guess that makes Alice the right degree of unsympathetic. It seemed okay to laugh at her because she was just so awkward and self-destructive. (The more I write, the more I hate myself.) But she had all of these people in her life that were very supportive and I don't know why. She didn't exactly build into the behavior that led to her breakdown. Rather she was just there. The breakdown sequence really felt like a response to people yelling at her sooner than it was about indulging her. But I also feel like I'm overanalyzing the movie and that can sometimes be a problem with me and movies like this.
The movie isn't great. It has its moments, especially if you are into cringy comedy. I almost definitely won't watch it again, but that's just because I don't want to feel icky. But I did enjoy that the guests that we had over felt so uncomfortable. I know I shouldn't feel that way, but sometimes you just have to laugh about how weird things got.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.