‘Welcome to Me’
Director:
Shira Piven
Stars: Kristen Wiig, Linda Cardellini
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

“Welcome to Me” isn’t a “Saturday Night Live” spin-off, but it almost feels like one. It’s a chance for former star Kristen Wiig to take the type of character she specialized in on the show — painfully awkward grotesques, powerfully oblivious to the discomfort and sometimes even misery they create for others — and see what it would be like for them to exist in a feature length movie. Her character, Alice Klieg, isn’t exactly Penelope or Dooneese, but she’s a spiritual cousin, and Wiig plays her with the same commitment to inspired non-sequiturs rattled off in a low-level mutter through bulging eyes, all while seriously unnerving an all-star cast of straight-people.

The hook, and it’s a good one, is that this type wins the lottery. What would Penelope or Dooneese do with abundant riches? For Alice a flurry of cash money means first moving into a Native American casino, and then shilling out millions to get her own TV show. Alice describes it as “Oprah but with swans,” though it also involves cooking “meatloaf cakes,” airing therapy, standing around wordless for minutes on end and talking about those she thinks are “cu—s.” (There’s a lot of therapy, even before she’s beaming in her therapist, played by Tim Robbins.) The staff of a tiny station (among them James Marsden, Wes Bentley, Joan Cusack and Jennifer Jason Leigh) feel they have no choice but to accept these absurdly lavish checks and try to fulfill her increasingly absurd demands, even while beaming endless looks of exasperation.

There’s arguably too many shots of the other cast members staring, head propped forward, jaw dropped, at Wiig doing or saying or, once or twice, screaming weird things, though it has a bigger problem. Comedies like this — and especially comedies produced “independently,” which seem to require a thick layer of sentimentality parading as ersatz realism — always need to turn serious. Sure enough, a sadder film keeps threatening to take over. It’s a mighty fight, though, and melancholy never quite takes over. Even the token scenes — Alice being confronted by a friend (Linda Cardellini) who feels neglected; a climax involving Alice trying to atone for past sins — are performed as weirdly and ridiculously as possible. Scenes are never played straight; indeed, the more serious it gets, the more Wiig cranks up the oddness.

That doesn’t excuse it, though, and even the fact that Alice has meds from which she’s in an off state plays like a nervous attempt to make her more relatable, especially since she only minutely improves when she belatedly goes back on. The fact that “Welcome to Me” pushes back against a film filled with more heart makes it more frustrating than a film that had played completely by the book; its attempts to make sincere scenes seem surreal comes off as passive-aggressive. There’s a super-insane film inside “Welcome to Me,” one that, as it happens, takes up about 80 percent of the picture. What’s another 20 percent?

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge