By Billy Huntsman
There is an old, perhaps sexist cliché regarding female actors—that to be taken seriously, to get nominated for an Oscar, an Emmy, a Tony, they must get nude.
I disagree with this notion. There are plenty of female actors who have never gone nude and have reaped great success—Katharine Hepburn, Sandra Bullock, and Meryl Streep were never and have never been, to my recollection, nude.
I do believe, however, that going nude, whether male or female, is a sign of immense dedication to a role, especially when considering how image-conscious Americans are.
And so after seeing Welcome to Me, currently available on Netflix streaming, I hope viewers and critics alike will take Kristen Wiig more seriously as an actor.
Wiig portrays Alice Klieg, a diagnosed manic-depressive who spends her days watching videotapes on which she has recorded shows, most notably episodes of The Oprah Winfrey Show from the 1990s.
A devout follower of the lottery, she watches the numbers go up every night during her dinner of tapioca (or vanilla) pudding, part of her newly adopted high-protein, low-“carbohydrant” lifestyle, which she informs her psychiatrist (Tim Robbins) will better help regulate her moods than her prescribed medications.
Eventually she wins the lottery, $86 million, and does what any logical person would do: she permanently moves into a casino hotel suite. She then sits in the audience of a live infomercial filming and volunteers to go up on stage. She quickly takes command of the stage, telling the audience and homeviewers of her winnings, as well more information about herself than probably anyone wanted to know—in particular, her use of masturbation as a mood stabilizer.
The owners of the station broadcasting the infomercial, Gabe and Rich Ruskin (Wes Bentley and James Marsden), are hard up for revenue. So, when Alice mentions she wants to use her lottery winnings to produce her own Oprah-esque TV show, the owners leap at the opportunity.
Each episode will cost $100,000 to produce, Gabe says, but on second thought, it’s probably more like $150,000, Rich contradicts.
What will each episode consist of? Discussion of current events, a show with special guests being interviewed?
“No,” Alice answers.
“What kind of stuff do you want to talk about?” Gabe asks.
Among the highlights of Alice’s 100-episode-two-hours-apiece show, titled Welcome to Me, are Alice coming onstage aboard a swanboat, baking a meatloaf cake with sweet potato frosting, and castrating dogs.
The film, which will probably remind more than a few viewers of a modern-day, female-driven version of Network, is equal parts comedy and drama. And like that wondrous, overacted, foreshadowing marvel of 1976, Welcome to Me is an indictment of modern television, its producers, and the daytime (perhaps even the primetime) viewing audience at large.
Honestly, the film is flawed and I cannot say that it deserved to be seen in theaters, but it does warrant watching on Netflix, primarily because of how strong Wiig’s performance is.
Like “go nude, get nominated,” another cliché in the acting world is that comedic actors are often the best actors, capable of switching successfully into dramatic roles, but there’s far more proof to prove this. Robin Williams—whose dramatic roles include Good Will Hunting, Awakenings, and Insomnia—Jim Carrey—dramatic roles including The Truman Show, Man on the Moon, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind—and Kelsey Grammer—most widely known for his comedic role as Frasier on television, but who more recently starred in the searing political drama Boss—evidence that comedy can make actors great.
Wiig has already received kudos for her writing with an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay for Bridesmaids at the 84th Academy Awards, but she deserves more praise for her acting, as well as her prolificacy, which could rival Liam Neeson’s.
Between Bridesmaids in 2011 and Welcome to Me in 2014, she starred in 11 films. Some of them were drags—Girl Most Likely and Revenge for Jolly!—while others are secret gems—The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Skeleton Twins—much like Welcome to Me.
If Wiig would raise her standards a little and star in higher-exposure projects, the moviegoing public, as well as influential critics, would glean her brilliance, occasionally on display in other films and subtly demonstrated throughout Welcome to Me.