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Entries in kristen wiig (4)


In Which We Remain Smaller Than We Were Before

All You Have To Do Is Say Yes


dir. Alexander Payne
135 minutes

There is a scene late in Alexander Payne’s Downsizing where a bunch of Norwegians watch the sun go down for the last time. It is an oblique commentary on President Trump’s desire to see more Norwegian-Americans, and as such it is very topical. Around 150,000 non-whites live in Norway, but as Payne pans across this collection of Norwegian people, they are a diverse panoply of different ethnicities. It is the moment where the question of, “Is Downsizing pandering?” is answered definitely in the affirmative.

Payne has been often celebrated for his satires. That is until Downsizing, because no one could seemingly figure out what was being satirized, or why it would be unusual for human beings to shrink down to a size of five inches. Once Paul (Matt Damon) makes this move, his wife (Kristen Wiig) refuses to go through with it and files for divorce. Instead of having a life of considerable wealth in his tiny village, he has to answer telephones for Lands' End, which Payne presents as a humiliating job.

In contrast, Paul’s true calling is as an occupational therapist. He is always noticing when someone is walking funny or suffering from some kind of chronic pain. He dates a woman who doesn’t want him to meet her kid, and comes home to the same shitty apartment he might have in a large person’s world. In other scenes, he witnesses a depth of poverty that transcends the size of the people involved.

Paul spends the rest of the movie as a pseudo-doctor to those in the slums who can’t afford anything better. It is a strange choice for Payne's film, but not as strange as the presentation of poverty in this context. Like many rich whites, Payne believes that those who depend on the efforts of others for their subsistence are uniformly non-white. Payne shares this view with - you guessed it - our beleaguered president.

Watching Matt Damon minister to the poor strikes us as a pathetic recreation of his actual life of justifying and defending the abhorrent behavior of his friends and colleagues. Yet in Paul there is something of the sycophantic enabler that Damon must be to the point where we sense Payne is using our disapproval of the actor behind the mask to draw suspicion to all those individuals who would do something positive for the wrong reasons. In the end, the wrong to be rectified is so much more awful that we accept any reason is just.

Poverty is a disgraceful symptom of a certain, more inclusive society. (Norway has never had to face such problems.) In order to eradicate it, we could conceivably shrink ourselves. As Payne presciently notes, there are ensuing problems – the amount of taxes collected would go down, the amount of consumer spending would go down. But what we should have realized before our government prevented the collapse of massive, irresponsible banks is that a new economy will always replace the old. This is the essential, undiminished spirit of capitalism. Payne writes around this essential question by drawing the world to an end in Downsizing.

By the end the main character in Downsizing becomes Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), a Vietnamese woman whose leg was amputed at the knee. She falls in love with Matt Damon while he is attempting to fix her prosthetic leg. In one exciting scene, they have sex after he is massaging her stump — she makes very elaborate groans which are meant to be a cue to him to initiate intercourse. Hong Chau is a fantastic actor in a somewhat problematic role, since Lan Tran has no flaws whatsoever and is basically presented as a female Confucius. Still, this at least feels like a risk in a movie that has very few.

As a result, the remedy that Downsizing offers for American life is focused on the personal. It is a very inoffensive, ineffectual answer to the serious economic question posed by this film’s premise, and I think audiences and critics reacted to Payne’s cowardice. I tend to give him a wider berth, but I understand it. In art, it's not enough, anymore, to say how and why the world feels wrong to you. You should probably have an idea of how it could be changed for the better.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.


In Which We Find Solace In The Hypnotic



Welcome to Me
dir. Shira Piven
88 minutes

It’s an emotional time for Kristen Wiig as an actress. After leaving Saturday Night Live in 2012, she has become a front woman in emotional independent films. In Welcome to Me, Kristen Wiig plays Alice Klieg, a single woman suffering from borderline personality disorder. Wiig’s expressions are always stagnant. Her mien is camera ready at all times. The state of her apartment is trapped in a perpetual state of the 90s, fully furnished with an eclectic fanfare of swan figurines and slew of VHS tapes. Daytime television is conveniently hypnotic for Alice's secluded lifestyle. She finds solace in watching reruns of Oprah on VHS. She can’t be faulted, Oprah’s voice is meditative.

The question, “What would you do with a million dollars?” usually lends itself in situations where people have nothing better to talk about. It’s self-aggrandizing to flaunt fame and fortune. There are people who consider gambling as a frivolous hobby, merely a waste of time and money, but according to Alice, the chances of winning the lottery can be achieved with the proper mindset.  

After hitting the $86 million California jackpot, Alice makes a public appearance on TV with a “prepared statement” where she seeks the attention and validation for which she has been yearning. She’s glimmering with hope. Everything she has done has led up to this moment.

Her televised speech is shortly cut off by a commercial after the line: “I’ve been using masturbation as sedative since 1991.” Unable to fathom the thought of going on unnoticed, she makes another television appearance to restate her speech. She transitions from one state to another with a turbulent force.

Alice's therapist Dr. Moffat (Tim Robbins) is a laidback man, but he has strict boundaries. There’s a scene where Dr. Moffat kindly asks Alice not to eat during their session. She retorts with a simple answer: “It’s in its own container.” Wiig allows her character to be infused with humor, but doesn’t devalue the overall portrayal of borderline personality disorder. After Alice exploits Dr. Moffat on her talk show, he has no qualms letting her go as a patient.

With $86 million dollars to play with, she fulfills her lifelong dream of being a talk show host just like Oprah. Television producer Rich (James Marsden) uses Alice to help protect the financial constraints of the company. James Marsden’s performance is soft and charismatic, like a cashmere sweater. Rich’s brother Gabe (Wes Bentley) takes quickly to Alice’s eccentric personality and finds her attractive.

Even though Rich finds his brother’s motives exploitative, he continues to pursue Alice romantically. On their first date, she quickly establishes a sexual relationship between the two in back of the bowling alley. When Alice invites him over, he discovers she sleeps with a sleeping bag on her bed. It doesn’t stop him; he could care less.

Each episode of “Welcome to Me” is filmed in front of a live studio audience. In the pilot, she makes a grand appearance in a swan. (Swans symbolize beauty and grace.) She tries her best to mimic these qualities to her fullest in order to be perceived this way. She is her own master. Alice invites us into her world, focusing on her childhood traumas and woes. She hires a slew of actors to reenact the people from her past but doesn’t think anyone is competent enough to perform her vision.

The show is the exact opposite of Oprah. It’s exploitative and risky. She slanders everyone in her life, including her best friend Gina (Linda Cardellini). Alice is unable to see all the hurtful things she has done. After spilling the boiling contents of a crockpot over herself on television, she is too consumed by the situation to shed an ounce of sympathy for Gina’s despair. Gina hits her breaking point and rails on Alice for her selfish behavior, but Alice is unable to process her words. During recovery, Alice retreats to her hotel room at the casino with a bunch of dogs. As a result, Alice has a mental breakdown, baring it all, emotionally and physically.

Despite the uncomfortable challenges, Welcome to Me sheds light on border personality disorder without poking fun at it. You can't turn away Kristen Wiig’s performance, even if you try.

Mia Nguyen is the features editor of This Recording.

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In Which We Examine The Static Physicality of Jennifer Westfeldt

Leading Role


Friends with Kids
dir. Jennifer Westfeldt
114 minutes

At college orientations across the nation, wizened sophomores tell freshmen the same thing: “School, sleep, or a social life: choose two.” Watching Friends with Kids, the new film from writer/director/actress Jennifer Westfeldt, I found myself wishing she’d applied the same principle to filmmaking. The film stars Westfeldt and Adam Scott (of Party Down, Parks and Recreation, and your friends’ sex dreams) as two longtime friends who decide to have a child together, rather than with romantic partners, in order to avoid the chaos they’ve seen visited upon their married-couple friends who have children. It’s a good movie that’s frustrating to watch because of how easily it could have been a great one: if only Westfeldt had realized she couldn’t do her own lead role justice.

Westfeldt is better known as an actress than as a writer or a director, actually: she’s had film roles here and there, along with decent stints in a number of television shows, including Notes from the Underbelly, 24, and Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place. Friends with Kids is her directorial debut and the third feature she’s written, along with 2006's Ira & Abby and her breakout film, now a decade old, Kissing Jessica Stein (she also starred in both of those).

Friends with Kids has a funny, heartbreaking, smart script — and a perfectly serviceable director, not a stylish or showy one. Westfeldt is, unfortunately, not especially compelling onscreen, with a tendency to swallow her lines and to maintain a static physicality. They are simple problems that a director could pretty easily have corrected — except, of course, that the director was Westfeldt herself.

Friends with Kids is not like Friends with Money, the peculiar, sweet Nicole Holofcenter film, in which the title is meant to invite contrast (the protagonist’s friends have money, while the protagonist does not), though it starts out that way. Julie Keller (Westfeldt) and Jason Fryman (Scott) are professionally successful, attractive pals in their mid-thirties who have a dozen-plus years of friendship under their belts and who even live in the same building. They are single and childless, while the two couples who constitute their best friends are just starting families.

Given the configuration of the supporting cast, it’s fun to imagine Friends with Kids as a sequel to Bridesmaids in which Maya Rudolph steals sweet Chris O’Dowd away from Kristen Wiig, who’s forced to settle for dickish Jon Hamm again. All four supporting players are excellent: Rudolph and O’Dowd as the harried, disorganized parents who are still, ultimately, pretty happy; and Hamm and Wiig as the sort of couple who can’t keep their hands off one another until having kids reveals that they never had anything in common.

The movie is a romantic comedy, so it’s pretty easy to guess what will happen to Jason and Julie after they hatch their scheme to bypass romance and marriage and head straight into split custody. They fall into an easy routine together —Jason wears a gray American Apparel hoodie in one scene; Julie has it on in the next— and then Julie finds to her surprise, upon hearing about a new girl Jason’s dating, that she’s actually jealous. (Mary Jane, for what it’s worth, is played by Megan Fox. Who wouldn’t be jealous?) Though she doesn’t have much trouble attracting suitors — most notably Kurt, played by Edward Burns, the kind of man who has strong values, a handsome face, and Mark Kurlansky histories on his bookshelf — Julie realizes she can’t help pining for Jason.

It is difficult to ever be completely invested in Julie, because of the constant distraction of knowing Westfeldt wrote these lines for herself. Replying to a compliment from Kurt, Julie says, “I mean, I can put myself together, you know, but — I just have good hair. I can put myself together, and good hair.” Westfeldt does have good hair, but I wish she’d left that kind of navel-gazey revelation out of her movie.

Friends with Kids is saved, though, thankfully, from fully falling victim to Westfeldtian myopia — because, although Julie has the most screen time, I don’t think she is actually her film’s protagonist. Adam Scott is the standout here, and Jason’s is the journey we are most interested in watching. He starts off as the kind of thirtysomething cad who can actually, earnestly list “huge tits” as a requirement for girlfriends (of Mary Jane, he revels: “She’s a skinny, flexible dancer with a big rack. What are the odds?”), and ends up as a man who honestly deserves Julie’s adoration. Given Westfeldt’s own investment in this film, you can bet she isn’t going to shortchange Julie romantically — she deserves to have everything, doesn’t she?

Alexandria Symonds is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. She last wrote in these pages about Michael Ondaatje. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. You can find her website here and she tumbls here.

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