Wiiging Out

Kristen Wiig's performance in Welcome to Me is funny, but squeamishly so

Kristen Wiig plays a mentally ill lottery winner who starts her own talk show.
Kristen Wiig plays a mentally ill lottery winner who starts her own talk show.

Welcome to Me is not sure if it wants to be an uncomfortable comedy or a 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 the feeling that sometimes 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 (Joan Cusack) watches in horror but recognizes the show as must-see television; her best friend Gina (Linda Cardellini) abandons Alice after one too many slights; and her long-suffering therapist (Tim 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 that humor in recent years has had a predilection for creating discomfort 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. ♦

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