wed 29/05/2024

Welcome to Me | reviews, news & interviews

Welcome to Me

Welcome to Me

Kristen Wiig comedy portrays borderline personality disorder, largely successfully

Kristen Wiig: 'from comedy to scary mania in the blink of her blue eyes'

These are sensitive times when it comes to playing anyone on screen with a mental health condition, particularly when it’s a comedy with Kristen Wiig. But Welcome to Me pulls it off, skittering nimbly along a tightrope between offensiveness, surreal humour and mawkishness.

Wiig plays Alice Klieg, a failed veterinary assistant first diagnosed with bipolar disorder in her teens and now living on disability benefits, mandatory therapy and medication from her controlling therapist (Tim Robbins, pictured below right). He considers her to have borderline personality disorder (BPD) and certainly she’s struggling to keep a grip on everyday life.

Its satire is oddly reminiscent of Robert Altman, particularly in the ensemble work

Writer Eliot Laurance has some personal experience with mental illness, and this is the first screenplay he wrote while working as a video librarian. People with BPD can have extravagant mood swings, but tend to be more of a danger to themselves than others – often charismatic and filled with grandiose plans, they divide people they know into either angels or devils. Alice has a string of failed relationships with friends and lovers behind her. As the film opens her life revolves around memorising favourite Oprah shows on her VCR, colour-coding her grubby apartment and trips to the grocers to stock up on string cheese. But even before the opening credits have played through, Alice has won $86 million in the state lottery and she’s Cinderella going to the Ball.

Welcome to Me is the second feature by Shira Piven, a theatre veteran who has a gift for letting a strong ensemble of actors (including Joan Cusack, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Wes Bentley) enjoy their lines. Wiig’s physical comedy and ability to spin from comedy to scary mania in the blink of her blue eyes has rarely been given such full rein. Alice has been practising for imaginary cameras all her life and pulls out a prepared speech at the lottery winner’s TV conference. But the producers crash the screen to black when she reads out: “I’ve been using masturbation as a sedative since 1991.”

It’s only a temporary setback. Alice kits herself and her best friend out in new finery and books into the top hotel suite in a casino – asked how long they’re planning to stay, she answers “Forever”. She wants to be a TV star, with her own inspirational talk show all about her life. There are faint shades here of both The Truman Show and Nightcrawler as she finds an unscrupulous infomercial cable company willing to pocket her $15m cheque and cobble together a live show on Channel 202 (between the Alien Network and the Laugh Network).

Let loose in front of the cameras in front of a skeletal audience, her fantasy TV life is at first a disaster but she rapidly becomes a cult figure, with her surreal cooking shows – meat cake iced with sweet potato (only 15 carbohydrants!) – and her amateur re-enactments of humiliating episodes from her life. The craven production company wince, but in the main keep taking the money. One earnest student interviews her assuming that Alice is engaged in performance art à la Cindy Sherman, only to be met with Alice asking if Sherman was in Laverne and Shirley and offering him a blow job.

About an hour into the film, the story takes a dark turn and grows uncomfortable, but Piven and Laurance manage to turn it around, showing just enough of how difficult life can be for someone with BPD and those close to them, without descending too far into painful reality. The screwball script of Welcome to Me displays some of the hairpin turns of Preston Sturges and its satire is oddly reminiscent of Robert Altman, particularly in the ensemble work and overlapping dialogue. Ultimately though this is Kristen Wiig’s show, and she seizes it with the same fervour as her character Alice embraces TV.

She wants to be a TV star, with her own inspirational talk show all about her life


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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