If you won $86 million in a lottery, what would you do? If you were Dave Attell, you might buy a chocolate factory and staff it with large-breasted hookers. If you’re Alice Klieg (Kristen Wiig), you might pony up the money to host a talk show about your life, called Welcome to Me.
The thing about Alice is that she suffers from borderline personality disorder. If you’re as unfamiliar with BPD as the average viewer is (myself included), it only takes a quick Google search to see that some of the symptoms are intense anger, irritability, self-harm, depression, anxiety, substance abuse and indiscriminate sex.
So that’s what Welcome to Me tackles. After Alice buys her TV show—by the movie magic of being in the right place at the right time, she finds a down-on-its-luck network—and turns her life into a spectacle, you have to make a choice: Is the movie making fun of Alice, or is it criticizing reality TV for taking advantage of vulnerable people? Or both? Or something else entirely?
The truth is that Welcome to Me lies somewhere in the hinterlands. It treats Alice’s condition seriously while also allowing the kinds of cringe-worthy laughs that were the hallmark of the English version of The Office. Take the many re-enactments Alice stages on the show. She hires actors to play her and other people (she uses their real names, and they’ve almost always wronged her) and then barges onto the stage, disrupts the scene and sends the actors, confused, scurrying.
As if the lawsuits resulting from those slanders aren’t enough, there’s the time she decides to neuter stray dogs live, on the show (she was a veterinary assistant at one point). Despite performing the procedures well, that’s the last straw for her producer and station owner, Rich (James Marsden).
That sends Alice into a tailspin that changes the course of the movie from uneasy comedy to uneasy drama, and it’s here that BPD stops being played for laughs and turns into a serious condition. It’s difficult to tell just what the filmmakers think of Alice (other than love for their own creation), but it’s clearer what they make of Rich, his brother Gabe (Wes Bentley), who’s sleeping with Alice, and the other people who round out the network (including Jennifer Jason Leigh as a producer who hates Alice’s show and Joan Cusack as a technical director).
It all could be an indictment of people who prey on the vulnerable for a living—Rich takes Alice’s money because the network is in financial trouble and she has the money to spend—but some of the gags laugh at Alice more than with her. It helps that Wiig uses her well-honed comedic chops and adds a layer of dramatic desperation.
Likewise helping is that many of the laughs are indeed hilarious. Cusack and the cast members stuck in the control room have priceless looks on their faces with each new horrifying bit Alice dreams up. But there’s something about Alice: She may have problems, but they’re not so different from ours, and really, neither is she. And if you had a chance to live vicariously through the person on screen taunting her high school enemies, wouldn’t you?
WELCOME TO ME
Directed by Shira Piven
With Wiig, Marsden and Cusack