Few movies have made me feel more guilty for laughing than the ultra dark comedy WELCOME TO ME, starring Kristen Wiig and directed by Shira Piven. Let me say off the bat, this film is about a woman named Alice Klieg who suffers from mental illness, specifically borderline personality disorder. Mental illness is the #1 issue that I am most sensitive to in movies and in real life. So it’s especially jarring for me that I was as amused by this film as much I was. I think a lot of that is because WELCOME TO ME expertly treads the narrow line between making fun of the lead character’s illness and showing the sometimes humorous effects from it.
In fact, many of the biggest laughs of the film for me came in Wiig’s throwaway lines such as, “I almost burnt my tits off,” and “I’ve been using masturbation as a sedative since 1991.” Yes, maybe her illness made these words flow more freely, but I can see Melissa McCarthy saying something like in BRIDESMAIDS, so it didn’t feel as exploitative. The main scenes dealing with the dark sides of her illness were no laughing matter and weren’t intended to be, such as when she walks through a casino completely naked or has long bouts of sobbing. These scenes helped ground the otherwise outrageous film in reality, showcasing that beyond the fun (and funny) talk show element, our lead character has a serious illness.
Much like myself, Alice (Kristen Wiig) is obsessed with Oprah Winfrey. She has tons of OPRAH episodes recorded on VHS tapes, and has memorized Oprah’s monologues and delivery style. So when she wins $86 million in the lottery, Alice uses her money to create her own Oprah-esque TV show on a local TV station. But unlike OPRAH, which had celebrity guests, heartwarming stories, and BRAND NEW CARS, Alice’s TV show focuses on… Alice. Her two hours of weekly airtime are spent talking about herself and reenacting traumatic moments of her life, painting those who she feels wronged her in a negative light. In one particular vignette, entitled “Someone Has Been Tampering With My Makeup Bag”, Alice recalls a moment from her childhood, when someone at sleepaway camp – you guessed it – tampered with her makeup bag. A seemingly innocuous moment for viewers was a disturbing moment in Alice’s life, reinforcing her distrust of the world around her. Soon, Alice’s world starts falling down around her as relationships (both professionally and personally) start to crumble and her failure to take her medicine leads to increasingly erratic behavior.
A fantastic cast of actors round out the film, with Joan Cusack and James Marsden playing employees at the station, who use Alice’s money to bankroll the floundering station. Tim Robbins plays her exasperated psychiatrist, who is (rightly) concerned that Alice’s refusal to take her medication, along with her monetary and professional windfall, is going to create a dangerous situation for herself and those around her. And finally, the always delightful Linda Cardellini plays Alice’s childhood best friend, who tries to be a good friend, but is going through her own pain too.
Instead of seeing the painfully unfunny HOT PURSUIT this weekend, I would recommend you support the smart dramedy WELCOME TO ME. Kristen Wiig, whose continued brave choices have showcased a dramatic, yet funny(ish) streak, has again given a fantastic performance. And although you may spend a lot of time wondering whether your cringe-laughing makes you an asshole, isn’t that the point of movies? To make you feel something? This movie will be making me feel and think for awhile after seeing it, and will (I’m sure) spark some lively debate with friends whenever they watch too.
My Review: B