Beyond the valley of black comedy is a place where laughter and horror mingle freely. Here roams the original British version of The Office and the amazing Scorsese/De Niro King of Comedy (still one of Scorsese’s best, despite its low profile). It clicks only intermittently, but Welcome to Me is an attempt to inhabit this territory. I didn’t actually laugh much during this cringe-inducing film, but I was often impressed by its willingness to be awkward.
That it succeeds as often as it does is largely due to Kristen Wiig, whose ability to slip from broad humor to quietly devastating insight is already well documented. She plays an unfortunate soul named Alice Klieg, whose borderline-personality disorder has cast her into the margins of society—until, that is, she wins the lottery, which means she can bankroll her own cable-TV talk show. The show gives her a chance to air her grievances—she has many—prepare recipes, and sing. It’s a trainwreck, but she keeps throwing money at the production company and they keep pocketing it. The show’s demoralized staff includes James Marsden, Joan Cusack, and Jennifer Jason Leigh; Alice’s backstage fling is played by Wes Bentley, as an infomercial pitchman who might be as unstable as she is.
Alice’s frequent belly-flops aren’t exactly funny, in part because the movie’s too grown-up to laugh at a mentally ill person. Director Shira Piven (a longtime theater director and sister of Jeremy) is going for the crazy-Americana vibe, so the movie has novelty songs, addled characters, and campy set design. (On the latter point, Alice demands her home be arranged in color-coordinated areas.) Piven’s got a great cast and she handles it well, although it would be nice to find out more about Alice’s best friend and ex-husband, especially with ready-to-roll Linda Cardellini and Alan Tudyk playing the roles. The idea of Alice as an avatar for a collective fantasy about getting rich and famous keeps the movie interesting, but there’s something a bit off about the delivery.
When Alice, who once worked in a veterinary clinic, decides to neuter dogs on her show, the act is sure to repel not just her TV audience, but the Welcome to Me viewer as well. The result might be squirmier than anyone intended.
WELCOME TO ME Opens Fri., May 8 at Varsity. Rated R. 87 minutes.