|Welcome to Me
Capsule reviews on two near-misses from the art house and a BOMB! (to use Leonard Maltin's nomenclature) from the multiplex:
Kristen Wiig, who announced herself as a star with "Bridesmaids," continues to show up in smaller films such as "The Skeleton Twins" and now "Welcome to Me," and dare I say I'm ready for her to get back to the studios. This new picture is about - all about - Alice Klieg, a mentally ill Palm Desert recluse who's got every episode of "Oprah" on tape (and knows every word). Since we're in Movieland, Alice wins an $86 million California lottery jackpot, and drops eight figures bringing the passion project of her dreams, a two-hour-a-day spectacle called "Welcome to Me," to a local cable-TV outfit. The show, an outré mishmash of aimless soliloquies, recipes worthy of a trailer-park cookout, and staged reёnactments of perceived wrongs from Alice's childhood, becomes an improbable hit, while Alice stops taking the meds her shrink (Tim Robbins) prescribes, gets it on with the mousy juicer pitchman she preempted (Wes Bentley), ignores her caring best friend (Linda Cardellini) and infuriates most everyone at the station (James Marsden again, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and the beloved Joan Cusack, suddenly looking old). The picture contains a number of big laughs of the did-she-really-just-say-that variety. But a strong supporting cast necessarily recedes into the periphery, Alice's problems with pronunciation (toos-nami, pro-said-ures) feel untrue to the character, and director Shira Piven seems unsure what if anything she's trying to say about Wiig's condition. "Welcome to Me" winds up neither fish nor fowl.
In "About Elly," directed by Asghar Farhadi before his Oscar-winning "A Separation" but released only now, a group of Iranian college chums reune for a weekend at a resort along the Caspian Sea. Sepideh (Golshifteh Farahani, in the film's strongest performance) wants to set their genial friend Ahmad (Shahab Hosseini) up with Elly (Taraneh Alidoosti), her daughter's kindergarten teacher. The group arrives without a reservation and is about to be turned away when Sepideh tells the owner that Ahmad and Elly are newlyweds, upon which the owner and her grandson set them up in the last vacant villa. On their second day, Elly reminds Sepideh that she had agreed only to come for one day, and must return to Tehran. Sepideh refuses. Some of the party go into town for provisions; Elly stays to watch the children, helping one fly her kite. Then a child interrupts her father's volleyball game, crying that Arash, her young brother, is in the water. A frantic rescue ensues (the movie's most gripping scene), culminating in Arash's recovery. But now where is Elly? Her bag is missing - oh, no, here it is. Might she have drowned trying to save Arash? Ah, but several days have passed, and the body would have washed up on shore. Meanwhile, here comes her fiancé, with whom she tried to break things off. What to tell him?
Farhadi has constructed a fertile scenario with echoes of "Under the Sand" (2000), François Ozon's picture with Charlotte Rampling as a professor whose husband goes missing at the beach. But Farhadi can't think of anywhere compelling to take it. There's no mystery, just a couple of ho-hum revelations along the way, and the non-ending's a big pfft.
Finally, a sure contender for my worst-ten list, Anne Fletcher's "Hot Pursuit," which proves that women directors can make movies every bit as horrible as men. Reese Witherspoon, in a performance that should have the year's Worst Actress Razzie locked up, plays a buttoned-up, by-the-book cop (now isn't that fresh?) named Officer Cooper (no first name, ho ho), charged with transporting a drug kingpin's wild-card widow (Sofia Vergara) across Texas to testify against the head of a major cartel. It's as generic and stale a formula as it sounds, about 25 years out of time, with the only laughs coming courtesy of Vergara (who can't act but has incontrovertible screen presence). As for Witherspoon, it defies credulity that this gifted actress, who graced the screen in "Wild" late last year, has chosen for her follow-up a role so overstuffed with unfunny dialogue, delivered by her so painfully shrilly, you can smell the desperation for miles. About a half-hour in, I saw the form of my friend Harvey pass from my right to left and heard him say, "Good afternoon." Twenty minutes later, Adrienne and I followed him out.