Following a stint on the Los Angeles improv comedy scene, Kristen Wiig joined Saturday Night Live in 2005. From there she took the well-trodden career path of so many top American comedians and swiftly graduated to Hollywood films. Having landed a part in Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up (2007), Wiig became a regular fixture in Apatow-produced comedies such as Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007) and Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008) before Bridesmaids made her a star in 2011.
With her role as archaeologist Barbara Minerva/Cheetah in Wonder Woman 1984, Wiig takes on something completely different – a key antagonist role in a DCEU (DC Extended Universe) comic-book action blockbuster. Wiig typically holds her own with quirky pratfalls and chortle-worthy lines, but also gets her share of spectacular fight scenes with Diana Prince (Gal Gadot, returning as the eponymous hero) and costumes ranging from ultra-glam to ferociously feline.
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To celebrate the release of Wonder Woman 1984, we glance back over 6 of Wiig’s finest performances to date.
Director: Paul Feig
Wiig’s first and best lead role, as hapless maid-of-honour Annie, gave her a riotous cinematic breakthrough. The hilarious and honest depiction of female friendship she co-wrote with Annie Mumolo snagged Oscar and BAFTA nominations for best screenplay. We empathise as struggling baker turned jewellery store clerk Annie gamely tries to organise a bachelorette party for best pal Lillian (Maya Rudolph), while rich interloper Helen (Rose Byrne) tries to usurp her with inappropriately lavish presents and haughty ways. Several set-pieces establish Wiig as a master of comedic movement, particularly her drugged and drunk ramblings on an aeroplane, while the torment in her face when her best intentions repeatedly crumble is all too believable.
Girl Most Likely (2012)
Directors: Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini
Unfairly maligned on release, Girl Most Likely sees Wiig essay one of her trademark semi-losers as failed playwright Imogene. When Imogene is mistakenly taken to hospital when a friend thinks she has attempted suicide, she’s forced to stay in New Jersey with mother Zelda (Annette Bening) while she pieces her life back together. Bening is ace as lively Zelda, Matt Dillon is oddly mysterious as Zelda’s live-in lover, who claims to be a CIA agent, while Wiig shines as a woman embarrassed to be back at square one in the parental home. The narrative plays out in formulaic fashion, but there’s fun to be had as Imogene discovers the value of family life and reignites her creative drive.
The Spoils of Babylon (2014)
Creators: Matt Piedmont and Andrew Steele
In this esoteric tribute to camp US TV miniseries of the 1970s and 80s, such as Rich Man, Poor Man, Wiig is Cynthia Morehouse, the daughter of a Texan oil baron (Tim Robbins) who falls in love with his adopted son Devon (Tobey Maguire). Wiig was nominated for an Emmy for her anxiety-ridden portrayal of lovesick Cynthia and there’s lots to love for viewers who can get on board with such a strange spoof. Wiig’s bonkers dinner-table conversation with Devon’s wife (who appears as a mannequin) is a series highlight, as is Devon’s heroin-addict beatnik phase. A framing device that bookends each episode sees Will Ferrell on bumptious form as the show’s creator Eric Jonrosh, a booming orator seemingly based on a latter-day Orson Welles.
Welcome to Me (2014)
Director: Shira Piven
Several of Wiig’s films, roles and line deliveries veer beyond ‘quirky’ into full-blown weird territory and are all the better for it. With that in mind, Welcome to Me is the strangest movie she’s been in. Wiig is Alice Klieg, a woman with mental health problems obsessed by TV talk shows, who wins $86m on the California state lottery, throws away her meds and buys her way into presenting her own talk show on a struggling TV channel. Her show features re-enactments of Alice’s teenage disputes, unappetising cookery segments and even dog castration. Is it comedy? Sort of. Some may find it unwatchable. The blend of tones probably shouldn’t work, but Wiig shows remarkable skill in depicting Alice’s vulnerabilities. Her character has many unusual ideas but we don’t see her as an object of ridicule. Welcome to Me is often hilarious, always strange, yet retains sensitivity. It repeatedly makes us question how we look after our own mental health and that of others.
Nasty Baby (2015)
Director: Sebastián Silva
Nasty Baby, which won the Teddy Award – a prize given to best LGBT-themed film – at the 2015 Berlinale, shows Wiig at her most naturalistic. Here she’s a would-be surrogate mother to the child of 2 Brooklyn men, played by director Sebastián Silva and Tunde Adebimpe, the latter moonlighting from his day job as frontman of NYC group TV on the Radio. It’s a quiet, considered performance, with little of the wild movement and outrageous actions of Wiig’s more comedic characters, in keeping with the mostly serious tone of the film – particularly when events in the trio’s semi-gentrified neighbourhood take a shocking and tragic turn.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015)
Director: Marielle Heller
Marielle Heller’s excellent directorial debut explores the sexual awakening of 15-year-old Minnie (Bel Powley). Wiig is on top form as Minnie’s bohemian librarian mother Charlotte, who asks her boyfriend Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård) to look after Minnie one evening, with unsavoury but not unpredictable consequences. Charlotte is a complex woman buffeted by anger, guilt and sadness, though she never wallows and could be forgiven for falling into self-pity. Wiig’s depiction of Charlotte is alive, true, but thankfully free of histrionics.