Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Welcome to Me

Welcome to Me (2015; dir. Shira Piven) totters between being a comedy that explores the problems of a woman with “borderline personality disorder” and comedy that ridicules and makes fun of that woman.  Kristen Wiig’s acting is superb.  She excels in playing characters who border on, or are well past, the line of dysfunctionality—consider the SNL skits about the check-out woman at Target, or the genetic mutant (or whatever she is) in the parody of the Lennon Sisters on Lawrence Welk.  Yet there is not much empathy in such parodies—they show little awareness that whatever their social and genetic malformations may be, these people are human beings who in the real world undoubtedly suffer for their disabilities and for the way other people react to them.  Welcome to Me doesn’t offer much empathy for its character either. After the first half hour or so it begins to seem like a Saturday Night Live skit that ran too long, and the film becomes exploitationist comedy.  It is never consistently any one thing.  It’s sympathetic to Alice Klieg, the central character, even as it invites us to snicker at her desire to have a talk show just like Oprah’s.  When she wins the lottery, she decides to use her winnings to have her own talk show.  She calls it Welcome to Me.  Do we feel sorry for her when she decides to use her $86 million to pay for the talk show, do we laugh at her for her total lack of self-awareness, do we condemn her narcissistic self-obsessions?  Alice is a demanding self-centered woman.  She needs friends, but mainly she needs them only because they support her and reassure her about the paths she takes.  She deeply resents those who have wronged her and uses her TV show to attack them.  Her show, produced by a cheesy cable channel on the verge of bankruptcy, documents her eccentric interests and resentments.  At one point she spends a week of episodes neutering cats and dogs.  Eventually she breaks down and is committed to a hospital after wandering naked through a casino.
With therapy and medication, Alice recovers, to an extent, and uses the last episode of her talk show to apologize to her best friend, whom she has especially taken advantage of.  She gives her all that is left of her lottery winnings, $7 million, and is back to where she started—no money and still emotionally broken. 

What does this film accomplish?  Despite moments of promise, it’s unfocused and meandering and self-indulgent and though superficially it might invite us to feel sympathetic towards Alice instead at heart what it wants is for us to laugh at her.

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