Florida Film Festival review: ‘Welcome to Me’

If you haven’t read The Weekly’s big festival article, what are you waiting for? It contains 21 feature reviews, but there are many noteworthy films that we didn’t have a chance to screen before our press deadline. Several of those will be reviewed in blogs over the coming days. I start with perhaps the most notable one, simply because it’s the opening-night offering (playing Friday, April 10, at 7 p.m. at Regal Winter Park Village).

Kristen Wiig’s colossal comedic break, Welcome to Me (2 stars), is her chance to show whether she can carry a star-studded film virtually by herself and whether her nice turn in The Skeleton Twins was a fluke or a sign of better things to come. Regrettably, she disappoints on both counts. But, in a departure from the film’s title, the failure is not all about her, as she has considerable help from the writer and director and her fellow cast members.

Wiig plays Alice Klieg, a bi-polar lottery winner who decides to eschew charity or any practical uses of her $86 million winnings and instead embrace fame full-force by launching a talk show hosted by and about only herself. Even Donald Trump must be offended by the immodesty.

Accompanying Alice on her misadventure is the show’s director (Joan Cusack), producer (James Marsden) and production assistant (Jennifer Jason Leigh). The only ones who seem concerned for her well-being are her love interest (Wes Bentley), best friend (Linda Cardellini) and therapist (an underused Tim Robbins). But it’s not genuine concern, as little in this films rings true.

Thanks to underwhelming writing by Eliot Laurence, limp directing by Shira Piven and a mediocre performance by Wiig – who settles too comfortably into her low-key, deadpan, SNL delivery – nothing crackles the way it should in this inelegant, inarticulate and often unfunny take on our media-obsessed, selfish society. And just when you think the movie is about to make a larger, darker statement about redemption and the moral bankruptcy of fame, it pulls its punches, unable to rise above its implausibilities and contrivances. (Since when do “narrative infomercials” air live and unrehearsed, with virtually no one in the studio audience?)

It’s tough to select an opening-night film. Organizers must consider the tastes of its audience, the need to create a good feeling among its patrons, and the delicate balance between pushing the envelope and playing it too safe. They also have to consider what films are available and whether those films have enough buzz to sell tickets. Admittedly, this movie might partially satisfy on those levels, as I heard a few mutterings of “OK” and “cute” from those leaving the advance screening. But even more importantly, the opener must challenge us and set the proper tone for the remaining nine days of the festival. Welcome to Me does neither.

The best part about opening night (other than the cool party at Enzian and Eden Bar) is the stop-motion short (directed by Adam Pesapane, better known as PES) that will precede Welcome to Me. Though Submarine Sandwich (3 stars), in its North American premiere, is not as instantly mesmerizing as the director’s Oscar-nominated Fresh Guacamole from 2012, it’s a slice – literally – of cultural and culinary nostalgia.  
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