WELCOME TO ME
Director: Shira Piven
Cast: Kristen Wiig, Wes Bentley, James Marsden, Linda Cardellini, Joan Cusack, Tim Robbins, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Thomas Mann, Alan Tudyk, Loretta Devine,
MPAA Rating: (for sexual content, some graphic nudity, language and brief drug use)
Running Time: 1:27
Release Date: 5/1/15 (limited); 5/8/15 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | May 7, 2015
The "joke" of Welcome to Me is that a person suffering from an untreated mental disorder, given complete creative control over a television program, would make for a very strange hour or two of TV. No, you're not alone in missing the joke, its point, or how this concept could possibly turn out to be funny. That the movie treats mental illness with honesty is slightly worthy of appreciation, although whatever good intentions we think the movie might have are forcibly tossed aside once it becomes clear that the concept is simply an excuse to provide a showcase of odd behavior.
That the movie is, at times, amusing is a bit of shock, although most of the humor that works here comes from characters realizing they are participating in a nasty experiment or attempting to justify their actions. When Alice Klieg (Kristen Wiig), for example, decides to do a week-long series of episodes in which she will neuter any dog that people bring to the studio, the studio's owner argues that it's "a public service" as the cameras get in close on the surgical procedure.
That's funny, because we know he's in the wrong in putting Alice on television from the start and he might actually be starting to realize his error. The show, of course, has become a success by this point, so he has to not only stand by his mistake but also try to rationalize its continuation.
Willful self-deception can be funny. There's a choice in the matter. Rich (James Marsden), who runs the studio, and his employees have, for the most part, decided that they will put aside any moral or ethical concerns about putting Alice on the air. After all, she just won $86 million in the state lottery, and she's willing to pay them a sizeable chunk of money to give her the airtime. Their behavior is irresponsible, but they are fully aware of that.
Alice, on the other hand, has no choice in the matter. Almost immediately from the start, screenwriter Eliot Laurence establishes that Alice suffers from borderline personality disorder—an admirably upfront move, considering the alternative. There's no deception on her part. She is convinced that she has ability to become the next Oprah Winfrey simply by being herself on TV.
She believes in what she is doing. After taking herself off her medication, she does not have the capacity to realize that she has turned herself into a carnival sideshow act for an audience of curiosity-seekers, who are also aware of her condition because she does not hide it. If there's a satirical element to this (which is doubtful, despite a recurring theme that Alice is obsessed with television), it's lost amid the focus on the oddity of the whole affair.
This isn't funny. It's sad and disheartening and demeaning, and while there is a tonal shift near the end of the movie in order to attempt to address this reality, it comes after a long stretch of time in which the movie wants us to laugh at all the "craziness" Alice brings to her talk show.
The subjects range from various traumatic experiences in her life to sorting items by color in order to achieve emotional stability. The segments include her eating a piece of meatloaf cake for five minutes, reenactments of all the perceived wrongs done against her, and televising a phoned therapy session with her psychiatrist (Tim Robbins) without his knowledge. A repeated punch line is that Alice is reduced to fits of sobbing during a segment. There's even a throwaway sight gag of her weeping behind soundproof glass while recording her peppy theme song with depressing lyrics, as Rich and his brother Gabe (Wes Bentley), who co-owns the studio, debate if this show is a good idea.
Admittedly, some of this works. It is honest in its depiction of Alice's mental illness, and Wiig plays the character without any sort of winking in the direction of mocking her, making us wonder if the movie's apparent tendency to do just that is an unintentional result of its directionless aim. The movie is never openly cruel, so maybe something has been lost in translation from Laurence's script under the guidance of director Shira Piven. Maybe Piven has subdued the jeering in the screenplay with a sympathetic attitude toward Alice.
Perhaps the point here is that no one really understands the ramifications of Alice's condition. Then again, there's the scene in which her best friend (played by Linda Cardellini), who has supported her decades, ignores Alice's condition and scolds her for being too selfish. Maybe the simplest solution, that Welcome to Me doesn't particularly care about mental illness beyond it serving as a joke, is the correct one.
Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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