Thursday, April 30, 2015

Shira Piven makes good on her promising debut with new Kristen Wiig-starrer WELCOME TO ME

Anyone who saw  Fully Loaded, the 2011 movie directed by Shira Piven (below), will probably be ready for Ms Piven's next narrative step (she's made a couple of documentaries in between): the not-easily-classifiable WELCOME TO ME. Starring Kristen Wiig in what may be her most memorable -- if not popular -- role, the movie boasts a number of other first-class performers doing some excellent work in a film that takes a look at our narcissistic, self-obsessed-as-never-before society from the vantage point of one of its crazier members.

Ms Wiig essays, with about as little vanity as most actresses would allow, the role of Alice Klieg, a woman suffering from a major personality disorder and all kinds of OCD behavior who, to boot, refuses to take her assigned medications. Helped along by her psychotherapist (a nice job from Tim Robbins) and best friend (Linda Cardellini), Alice is barely managing. And then one day, she comes into a lot of money.

What Alice does with this windfall constitutes the movie's plot, introduces a raft of new characters, and sets us and Alice on a journey that explores everything from television and talk shows to friendship, self-obsession and medication, while showing us what and who we can buy -- if we have enough money.

Through it all, Ms Wiig (above) keeps us and everyone around her both off-balance and on our/their toes. The question of just how far one can go in the pursuit of "me" is raised and, if not fully answered (the movie cops out a bit toward the end), at least puts us in touch with the kind of "power" that money brings and how, in the hands of folk like Alice (not to mention dictators like, say, Idi Amin), it can be used in ways crazier and crazier.

The movie -- like the recently released The Voices -- will certainly encourage viewers who are borderline, or who have friends/relatives in this sad state, to take their meds. Beyond this, what is the film trying to accomplish? Well, it takes our current state of women's "Oprah worship" -- narcissism pretending to be other-centered -- to its logical conclusion. It also seems to want to show us how, even among borderline personalities, there's a lid for every pot. (Wes Bentley, above, plays -- quite well, too -- Alice's lid.) I have to admit that the screenplay by Eliot Laurence (The Big Gay Sketch Show), while appearing to want to have things every which way, certainly does not cater to the expected.

For instance, the TV show that Alice "purchases," while becoming more popular than anyone first imagined, does not morph into some boffo hit. And that relationship between heavy-duty misfits is not allowed to come to much, after all. Only Alice's longtime pal, Cardellini (shown at bottom, left), is used for a little too obvious sentimental fodder. Welcome to Me is certainly not a comedy, though it has plenty of odd laughs along the way, but you wouldn't call it a drama, either. Nor any kind of rom-com. And it does not quite fit as satire.

What holds the film together are the fine performances -- led by Ms Wiig, who is as good as she has ever been in this role, followed by that of James Marsden (above, right) as the grasping television producer who'll do just about anything for money -- and the near-hypnotic pull of the narrative (the bizarre incidents really do keep you glued). Piven and Laurence may have bitten off more than they can properly chew but they've nonetheless given us viewers a kind of fractured feast that is worth trying to digest.

Welcome to Me (the title doubles as the TV show Alice finances) -- from Alchemy and running 105 minutes -- opens tomorrow, Friday, May 1, in New York City at the Angelika Film Center and in the L.A. area at the Sundance Sunset Cinemas.

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