dir: Shira Piven
Well. That happened.
This is one of those flicks where you can safely say if Kristen Wiig wasn’t in it, the flick would never have been made. And had it never been made, would the world have been any better or worse off?
Welcome to Me is a mildly interesting flick, but not an entirely satisfying one. It’s hard to imagine a more satisfying version of this same story, because I’m not sure such a thing would really be possible.
It has, at its core, a main character who is transcendentally kind of awful. Alice Kleig (Kristen Wiig) maybe doesn’t mean to be, but she is struggling with, at the very least, borderline personality disorder, according to her long-suffering therapist (Tim Robbins).
She has one friend, Gina (Linda Cardellini), a gay ex-husband (Alan Tudyk) who inexplicably still dotes on her, and a completely distorted sense of the world and her place in it.
We know right off the bat that her own personal psychiatric history shapes the majority of her interactions with the world, or at least her sense of it, but we are also giving the clear impression that television is responsible as well.
As a television addict who especially watches old tapes of Oprah in order to get those soothing messages through the television screen that convince her that she’s special and destined for greatness, she could be the perfect imagined audience. Those kinds of daytime shows, whether they’re thinly veiled self-help infomercials, or outright shitty infomercials, sell the same kind of idea that advertising has been selling people for over a century. The two main differences here are that: the message of simply wishing for ‘good’ stuff to happen as a viable life strategy is reinforced, and secondly, it actually seems to work out for Alice.
She wins the lottery, and gets something like 80 million dollars. Instead of allowing it to simplify / improve her life, she decides to become that which she has long hungered for: another talking head on the television.
The crux of the matter is the vaunted interview that local news stations do with big lottery jackpot winners. As she launches into a prepared speech where she talks about using masturbation as a sedative for twenty years, she is cut off.
What? How dare they etc etc. She is so socially inept, so completely self-involved that she can’t understand why they’re not letting her ramble on at length about whatever.
She finds the one station, a very low rating local cable access channel run by an unscrupulous operator (James Marsden) that will let her blossom into the Oprah she is convinced she can be. As long as she keeps paying, they’ll keep putting her on the air.
If there is a type of film this conforms with, in films of this type, you would expect that either this horrible abortion of an experiment would fall apart immediately, or, more ironically, that the show becomes an improbable success.
Yet there really aren’t many films of this type, unless there is a very well known ‘awful mentally ill people who aren’t serial killers’ genre that I’m not aware of. Sure, there are awful people in a lot of movies, some that specialise in showing just how awful those people are without any stab at redemption (off the top of my head, I’m thinking of films like the odious Greenberg, Young Adult, Bad Santa, Bad Teacher, a few others).
The difference there is that we’re not meant to applaud them, but we do marvel at their awfulness, and at the cluelessness or stupidity of the people around them. If we don’t empathise with them, we at least appreciate that they are as they are, and hope that we never meet people like them in real life, and perhaps we even pity them.
I’m not sure what we’re meant to feel for Alice here. It’s well-established that she has some kind of mental illness, but that doesn’t really explain anything. She is heroically self-centred, and in television she sees an avenue towards sharing herself with the world.
To what end, you might be wondering. Her sole purpose in getting on television seems to be to just be on television. The television in her apartment has been on for eleven years, without being switched off once. We are meant to see that she is in thrall to it, that it is her only constant companion, that it is mirror and projector both, and that through it she can get revenge on everyone who ever made her feel bad.
During her amateurish and sprawling show, whatever she so thinks to do, she gets to do. Since she’s footing the bill there’s no-one to tell her to stop. Joan Cusack, a strained voice of reason, works as a producer on the show, and grows more and more despondent as the train wreck of a show rolls on. In her we’re meant to see a clear audience surrogate, in that she shares our growing horror in what happens when pure narcissism and money collide on television.
I’m not even really sure what the flick is saying about television, either. If it’s saying that Oprah and her ilk, and infomercials and reality television are bad, both for the individual and the national soul, well, forgive me if it’s not much of a revelation. It doesn’t even really seem to be saying anything that bad about them, other than this particular cable channel, where the people running the show understand that they’re making a shitty product, but the person paying is the customer, and isn’t the customer always right?
You couldn’t even say this is satirical, or a caustic excoriation of ‘television’, in perhaps the way that most excellent film Nightcrawler from last year with Jake Gyllenhaal in it did. That film specifically took an unpleasant character who lucks into a job as a footage stringer for a low rating tv channel and blew the story up, such that it was about displaying how far a sociopath will go to achieve his aims, and how desperately vicious the media can be in pursuit of ratings.
That flick left scars. This one leaves ‘mehs’ all over the place. What we’re left with is a story about a delusional mentally ill person who wins a bunch of money and then basically fritters it away in the pursuit of being heard. She wants people to know that some girl at summer camp took her eyeliner, or that someone once said something bad about her.
These things are important to know, for the rest of us, apparently. By the time the story veers off into Alice performing dog castrations live on air, dozens of them, for no other reason other than to perform them and alienate whatever tiny audience she has, it’s used at a punchline or a signal that she’s heading for mental collapse.
And what signifies mental collapse better than a full frontal naked tv comedian walking through a low rent Native American reservation casino?
Props (if ‘props’ is actually the word I’m thinking of) for going the whole hack, so to speak, but I wonder whether it was actually worth it. I have no problem with nudity, in fact I’m a great supporter (when it’s other people’s, and not my own). But I’m not sure what it added to our understanding of Alice’s precarious mental state. We already knew she was, for lack of a better term, completely nuts. The film up to this point has been displaying how completely impulsive, self-absorbed and utterly uninterested in the people around her except as conduits to her self-actualisation on tv she is, and this is a cherry on top we never needed.
The ending, when it happens, is perhaps unearned, but it’s not like I wanted anything bad to happen to Alice. It’s hard to know what I was supposed to want. In a way we can be left with a sense that maybe things for Alice, and the people in her orbit, will be okay (as long as Alice stays on her meds), but the ray of hope we get is from Alice realising she no longer has to be beholden to the television in her lounge room.
Now she has the tubes of the internets upon which she can post her pointless videos of her saying whatever pops into her head.
Get with the times.
Overall I’d say I found it dissatisfying, but it’s still an interesting performance to watch. It’s not a revelation or anything, since Wiig has played variations on these kinds of clueless awkward lunatics before during and after SNL, but I enjoy watching her perform (in dramas moreso than comedies, these days). Welcome to Me isn’t going to be remembered in a year’s time, but it will remain a curious artefact on a gifted performer’s resume.
6 times the ‘bad’ version of the show didn’t really look that different from the ‘quality’ versions of these kinds of shows anyway out of 10
“This morning I woke up and there was a pubic hair on my pillow shaped like a question mark. And it really got me thinking of unanswered questions, like all the times in my life when I was supposed to feel something but I felt nothing and all the other times in my life where I wasn't supposed to feel anything but I felt too much and the people around me weren't really ready for all of my feelings.” – I know just how you feel, girlfriend, especially about the question mark and the other punctuation– Welcome to Me