Living inside of one’s own mind can be a continuous challenge for any human, but it is especially difficult for Alice Klieg (Kristen Wiig), the central character in Welcome to Me, directed by Shira Piven. Wiig is exceptional as always, particularly during the heavy and dramatic scenes, but even she is not enough to save this movie.
As Alice, Wiig plays a character with a mental illness never fully explored in the film, but referred to as “manic-depressive” or “rapid cycling bipolar disorder”. Alice’s apartment is dimly lit and full of old VHS tapes and a television that she watches continuously. The sad part about her character is that her constant need for attention and her immersion in her television when she is alone is a mechanism she uses to feel like she is not alone with her own thoughts, which could unravel at any moment.
She begins the film by taking herself off of the medication prescribed to her by Dr. Daryl (Tim Robbins) and subsequently wins $86 million in the California lottery. With her newly acquired wealth she gives a $15 million downpayment to a TV station in a financial bind in order to have her own talk show. The TV producers (James Marsden, Wes Bentley, Joan Cusack, Jennifer Jason Leigh) decide to produce the show for her, where her idea of entertainment becomes silently eating meatloaf cake with sweet potato frosting, reenacting moments of her personal life, and neutering dogs. She begins sexual relationships with producer Gabe (Wes Bentley) and a grad-student named Rainer (Thomas Mann), who thinks she is a brilliant forward-thinking artist responsible for inventing the “narrative infomercial”. All of it is an attempt to have “a new life”, effectively running from the very real problems teeming within her own psyche. She tries to convince herself she is going to be the next Oprah and becomes so selfish she alienates her best and oldest friend Gina (Linda Cardellini). It all starts to fall apart and she begins to realize the fantasy world she has created cannot keep her problems at bay forever.
There is so much promise with Welcome to Me, starting with Wiig, who instantly makes anything a hundred times better, but the script is not nearly as good as it wants to be and none of the characters feel fully fleshed out, including Alice. It does do a great job of humanizing her and shows that although she has a mental illness it is not something that has to define her. It attempts to take away some of the stigma associated with mental illness, but ultimately just ends up avoiding it. It order to attack stigma it must first be confronted head-on, but the film never explores to the fullest extent how Alice’s mental illness is specifically affecting her life and her personality. There is just not enough substance here to make it work, which is a shame because on paper the concept is both hilarious and heartbreaking. Somewhere within its premise is a really brilliant and groundbreaking movie, but unfortunately it does not come to fruition in this film and falls very short.