A borderline personality disordered lottery winner funds a talk show on access television to laughably live out her own form of self help.
Welcome to Me
There’s something poetically comical about self-help jargon escaping the mouths of the world’s least qualified advice givers. Most recently Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom in Nightcrawler dispensed memorized wisdom while in the throes of sincere depravity. Now we have Alice Klieg, plagued by borderline personality disorder and well versed in Oprah-ese. Off and on on her medications, she spends her days in her color coded house watching hours of recorded talk shows, reciting along with their hosts all the life enhancing mumbo jumbo that daytime TV can offer. Kristen Wiig plays Alice’s mentally unsound and painfully awkward protagonist, and it’s because of her this film doesn’t end up feeling mean hearted, since Alice’s behavior make for some serious laughs at the expense of mental disease and the people who take advantage of an unwell woman. Because of Wiig’s charm and the line-toeing nuance of Eliot Laurence’s script, Welcome to Me explores the larger themes of self-medication and personal treatment and how artistry and imagination plays into finding a middle ground where one can at least live a satisfying life if not one defined as “normal.”
Alice lives a life of routine. She sleeps in a sleeping bag above her bed covers, her TV is not allowed to turn off and constantly plays a slew of her favorite Oprah episodes, and every day she buys herself a lottery ticket. One day her numbers match and her life is changed. Alice is functional enough to understand money can change your life. So, along with her best friend Gina (Linda Cardellini) she starts to have some fun. She moves into a penthouse in a Palm Springs hotel, buys herself colorful clothing, and treats her friends and family to expensive meals, among them her supportive gay ex-husband (Alan Tudyk). When she and Gina serve as audience members in an infomercial and Alice gets to be on stage in front of the camera, she finds a new high to achieve to. And with money, she doesn’t even have to try that hard.
Gabe and Rich (Wes Bentley and James Marsden) are the brothers who own the studio where Alice visited the informercial and their business is dying. When Alice marches in and lays down cash to buy herself a weekly two hour talk show, Rich agrees immediately, while Gabe seems to understand Alice’s demands come from someplace unhinged. And so Welcome to Me is born, much to the annoyance of the studio’s producers (Jennifer Jason Leigh and Joan Cusack). Alice’s terms are met in detail, so her show has her coming in on a swan, she spends portions of the show cooking low-“carbohydrant” meals (she’s convinced herself a high protein diet will aid in her therapy), and most awkwardly of all she directs elaborate reenactments of the most distressing and humiliating moments from her life in an attempt to get the last word.
It’s all quite hilarious, even if you aren’t sure at every moment if you ought to be laughing. And when Alice throws more and more money into the show to up its production value and glorify herself, her narcissism and blatant use of others starts to take its toll. Her downward spiral into her disease in the end is much grittier than expected, given the lightness up until then, but in that way it very effectively expresses the highs and lows of borderline personality disorder. It’s volatile and uncomfortable.
Wiig has proved she’s branching out past the safe humor of SNL, riding the dramedy line in such films as Hateship Loveship and The Skeleton Twins. Her deadpan sincerity to her roles adds the dramatic seriousness needed, but only in Welcome to Me do I feel we’re really seeing the vulnerability she’s capable of. Not to mention her ability to so quickly go from Alice’s hissy fit style hysteria when talking about past wrongs to calculated monotone-delivered speeches on reaching one’s personal potential. Her range has never been more evident.
Director Shira Piven, relatively unknown with only one other feature and a TV documentary under her belt, most proves her abilities in the performances of her actors, allowing their talent to play out. Bentley especially impresses as a shy and rather broken man who joins Alice in finding personal therapy. With its bright coloring and Gondry-esque TV set Piven’s world in Welcome to Me is a bit exaggerated, which may draw away from the gravity of Alice’s condition, but never seems to make light of it. Much like Alice’s zen-like therapist played by Tim Robbins, Piven creates a safe place to explore.
It’s not too far fetched to believe if we say our mantras and layer on the systems, something will catch and we may just fix ourselves. Its why those who buy one self-help book are the most likely to buy another. Welcome to Me touches on a need in all of us to try to reach some level of self-proclaimed normalcy as well as the innate need to feel accepted by others for all our flaws and quirks. Borderline personality disorder is mostly a heightened emotional state and a distorted sense of self-image, and I doubt there’s anyone out there who can’t identify to some degree with what Alice feels. Mental illness is no laughing matter, but therapy absolutely is, and this film’s strength lies in Alice as the face of what we’re all searching for—and that the seemingly-put-together life gurus just don’t imbue—someone searching for help who actually looks like they need it.