In 2011, five women pooped themselves. It was supposed to change the world.
The future of women in comedy rested on the shoulders of these women who were so brash and entertaining in the blockbuster Bridesmaids. And the Patron Saint of Equal-Opportunity Laughs performing this miracle of female representation in the industry was the film’s star and writer, Kristen Wiig.
A world in which Wiig headlined studio comedy after studio comedy—Target Lady follows in the career footsteps of Will Ferrell—was fantasized about by culture critics and fans of hilarious things, particularly hilarious women. We dreamed big: Big movies! Big comedy! Big things for Kristen Wiig!
The trajectory Wiig ended up taking, however, was quite radical in its rebellion against that—as radical as writing a downright Apatowian scene in which a woman shits in a sink. There was still the comedy we’d come to love: excellent and hilarious turns in Arrested Development, Drunk History, and Anchorman 2. But the lead roles she’d take in feature films rejected what most of us expected.
Girl Most Likely, the teensiest of indies, was her first post-Bridesmaids starring role. She played a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Hateship Loveship proved that her bag of behavioral tics served her just as well in literary-minded dramas as they did in broad comedy. And in The Skeleton Twins, Wiig reunited with Saturday Night Live co-star Bill Hader...but it was a film about suicide. (Albeit a very good one.)
“Even my dad’s asked me, ‘When are you going to comedies again?’” Wiig tells The Daily Beast. “Why are you just doing dramatic stuff?’”
Welcome to Me, Wiig’s latest small indie that hits theaters Friday, is proof that, with due respect to Mr. Wiig, we should be happy she’s doing the “dramatic stuff.”
In spurning the temptation to parlay her Bridesmaids success to become Hollywood’s next cash-cow star of moderately funny studio comedies, Wiig has instead carved herself what is probably the most interesting and unexpected career path of working actresses today.
More, Welcome to Me is an unrivaled showcase for Wiig’s prodigious dramatic chops, featuring sobbing mental breakdowns, carefully calibrated mental illness, and a nude scene, to boot. It is her best performance yet. (Yes, better than Bridesmaids.)
She plays Alice Klieg, an Oprah Winfrey-obsessed woman with borderline personality disorder who wins the lottery. She uses the funds to finance her own public access talk show, Welcome to Me, which consists entirely of Alice talking about herself: her vengeances, her philosophies, her whims. The film is often as funny as the premise sounds, and could easily have been the post-Bridesmaids broad comedy many had hoped for. We should be glad it isn’t.
Wiig delicately plays Alice as oblivious to the quiet mortification she is inflicting on herself. Her tunnel-vision narcissism is as uncomfortable to witness as it is amusing in the film’s lighter moments. (And this is, at times, a really funny movie.) It’s a raw, real and expertly performed downward spiral, by a girl so good at wacky impersonations of Suze Orman that she doesn’t get the dramatic credit she definitively deserves.
“It’s this fearless, beautiful, sometimes small and real performance,” says Linda Cardellini, who plays Wiig’s best friend in the film. “I don’t know anyone else who could pull off a role like this aside from her. Male or female.”
Fittingly, when Welcome to Me director Shira Piven first read the film’s screenplay, she could envision only Wiig as Alice. Piven had such conviction in getting Wiig’s suitability for the part that she waited more than three months for the screenplay to get in front of the SNL star—certain that once she read it she would realize it was the perfect role for her, too.
“At least I liked to believe she would [realize it],” Piven says. “I felt like if we were patient enough…and then we got lucky.”
Lucky because Wiig did respond as instantly as Piven had expected. But it wasn’t the challenge, per se, that interested her. And it wasn’t the idea of proving to everyone that she was capable of rising to the challenge, either.
“It was more like, ‘I can’t wait to say that I did it,’” Wiig says. “Meaning, ‘I can’t wait to be done with it. But I want to do it.’ Like anything you’re scared to do, you’re really excited about it, but you do look forward to the moment where you’re like, ‘Oh my god. I did it.’”
Given her history, at this point maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised that she’d be able to.
In truth, Bridesmaids wasn't just a breakout vehicle for Wiig because it showcased her comedic genius. Her recurring SNL character Penelope, Target Lady, that gut-busting cameo in Knocked Up: Wiig had already become Hollywood’s most exciting comedian. Bridesmaids changed Wiig’s career because it revealed so much more about her. As it turned out, she was, first and foremost an actress, one capable of carrying one of the more nuanced and complicated arcs required of any actress that year as Annie.
The bruised vulnerability and manic quirkiness that made her character so funny also made her brilliantly sad and human—not just in Bridesmaids, but in Girl Most Likely and especially The Skeleton Twins. Then this year out of Sundance there is rousing buzz for her performances in The Diary of a Teenage Girl and Nasty Baby. Plus, she is so, so good in Welcome to Me.
Given all of this, it must be frustrating at this point that the world is greeting her dramatic chops, still, with shock and awe.
“I think it’s that people know you from your work. People probably first heard my name, it was either Saturday Night Live or Bridesmaids, and those are both comedies,” Wiig says. “I was lucky enough to be hired on SNL and lucky enough to be able to write a movie and star in it and to have that opportunity. But I want to be able to do everything. Not everything, but at least have a choice.”
“Choice” is actually perfect phrasing, given that there’s an assumption that Wiig has been actively burrowing herself into the cozy, weird, and intimate trenches of the indie film world where she currently lives.
“It’s easy to look back on your path and say what it is, rather than when you’re actually on it,” Wiig says. “It was never a deliberate, stomping my feet that, ‘Oh, I’m only going to do this kind of movie.’ The boring answer is that it just happened.”
It's been four years since Bridesmaids just about bowled over the watercooler with the aggressiveness of the conversations about what the film’s success would mean for the industry. As that conversation continues to teeter back and forth, it's been an interesting experience, to say the least, to be the woman sitting at the fulcrum of it.
The sheer lunacy of the idea that the future of women in comedy was being determined by the moves of five women who starred in one movie is one thing—something that Wiig laughs at heartily when it’s brought up. But as far as what has happened in the time since the film became a cultural lightning rod?
“It’s pretty simple, if you look at the newspaper right now there aren’t a lot of movies that are just starring women. It’s just the reality,” she says.
As for whether things have gotten better over the last four years?
“I don’t know what’s changed or if it’s changed. I hope it has. I don’t think we’re where we need to be yet,” Wiig says. “If it got people talking, I think that’s great. If it got other movies greenlit or if shows were created because of that, I couldn’t be happier. But it’s so hard for me to have perspective on it or say how it influenced things.”
At the very least, you can see the “Bridesmaids Effect,” as it’s become known, in Wiig’s most anticipated upcoming project: an all-female version of Ghostbusters that reunites her with her Bridesmaids director, Paul Feig. And for all of this talk of her dramatic talents, Wiig isn’t shunning her comedic roots.
Just this week, she gave a blissfully batty interview to Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show as Khaleesi from Game of Thrones. And among her upcoming projects is the greatest-sounding thing you’ll ever hear: a voice performance in a Seth Rogen-penned animated comedy called Sausage Party, in which she voices the part of “Hot Dog Bun.”
The theatrical release of Diary of Teenage Girl, Nasty Baby, and the prestige Ridley Scott film The Martian in the midst of those comedies signals one thing to continue to expect from Wiig: the unexpected.
“Hire comedic people to do dramatic roles,” she says. “Hire dramatic people to do comedic roles. It’s interesting. And from what I know, they want to do it.”
This must be an opinion formed from experience. After all, this is the star of Bridesmaids, delivering one of the most complicated dramatic performances of the year. A “hell yeah” moment for those who may have wondered, Can she pull it off?
“My intention for this was never to be like, ‘Haha, let me show them!’” Wiig says. “But it’s in your brain at some point. When you read a script and there’s a scene that requires you to be crying and it’s like, ‘Oh, wow. I’ve only done crazy, weird people on this sketch show. If I do this, that’s different.’ There’s lots of scenes like that in this movie where I knew it was something I’ve never done before.”
Well, thank goodness. Let Kristen Wiig do new things, always. After all, imagine what the world would be like if no one had ever pooped in that sink in the first place.