Welcome to Me
2015, R, 86 min. Directed by Shira Piven. Starring Kristen Wiig, Linda Cardellini, James Marsden, Wes Bentley, Tim Robbins, Joan Cusack, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Alan Tudyk, Thomas Mann, Loretta Devine.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., May 8, 2015
Welcome to Me is not sure if it wants to be an uncomfortable comedy or wry drama. The film stars Kristen Wiig, who switched over to making films after concluding a popular stint as a longtime regular on Saturday Night Live, where she created a stable of peculiar characters whose lack of social affect was matched by their inappropriate enthusiasm. With Alice Klieg (the “me” in Welcome to Me), Wiig has etched another unforgettable character, despite sometimes feeling as though watching Alice is akin to the involuntary compulsion to watch a train wreck in motion.
The film has a stellar premise: Alice, a woman diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and currently off her meds, wins $86 million in the state lottery and sinks her windfall into the production of a TV show called Welcome to Me. An Oprah fanatic who hasn’t turned off her TV in 11 years, Alice lines her apartment walls with videocassettes of Oprah’s show, whose episodes she can recite by heart. Yet Alice’s show is filled with things like cooking episodes featuring meatloaf cake (with sweet potato icing) and libelous reenactments of childhood traumas. No one is willing to save Alice from herself: the infomercial owners of the operation, a sibling team played by James Marsden and Wes Bentley, like the color of her money; the director (Cusack) watches in horror but recognizes the show as must-see television; her best friend Gina (Cardellini) abandons Alice after one too many slights; and her long-suffering therapist (Robbins) gave up on her a while back. Inevitably, Alice crashes, leaving enough time to tie up the plot in a nice bow.
Welcome to Me isn’t laughing with Alice, but at her, in what seems like a harsh reaction to mental illness. The film milks untold jokes from the setups of Alice’s show segments, but after we get the idea, the humor wears thin. By the time she suffers a complete breakdown in the middle of the Indian casino where she now resides, it’s impossible to recognize her anguish amid the absurdity that has become her life. Although the film’s depiction of borderline personality disorder seems on-target for the most part, I question whether someone with the condition would have the brazen confidence to star in her own TV show. I know humor in recent years has had a predilection for creating discomfiture within the audience, but Welcome to Me takes it too far. The jokes take on a certain redundancy, and a queasiness about laughing at the consequences of mental illness sets in.