Depictions of mental illness on screen, and borderline personality disorder in particular, tend to fall into one of two categories: utterly crazed, psychotic individuals (Fatal Attraction) or played for heavy-handed, unsubtle laughs. Refreshingly, Welcome to Me takes a rather more realistic approach in its focus on mental illness.
Kirsten Wiig, so wonderful in Bridesmaids, stars as Alice Klieg, a women who suffers from borderline personality disorder. Her life comprises of a total reliance on television, particularly the work of Oprah, whose focus on self-improvement clearly resonates with Alice. Alice lives on state disability allowance, and as such, along with her dedication to television, must attend mandatory therapy sessions with her psychiatrist. During these sessions it is apparent that Alice is ignoring advice from her doctor and has chosen to neglect taking her medication.
Alice, in between moments of extreme anguish or anger, largely appears disconnected and passive, but has a strong sense of her desire to self-improve. As the film begins, watching a recorded episode of Oprah (one of a large collection), she recites the lines alongside the host, copying her intonation and cadence as the host discusses the importance of living your dream.
Alice’s life changes in an instant when she realises that she is the winner of the state lottery, and is awarded $86 million. After setting up residence in a reservation casino she realises what her dream is: to be on television. Paying an infomercial network $15 million for 100 episodes of a talk show in which she is the host, Alice determines that she will be the focus and topic of her show, ‘Welcome to Me’, and issues a list of demands including a swan boat, a theme song and a number of different segments, one of which is a reenactment of a slight made against her as a teenager.
Tonally the film, whilst sympathetically portraying Alice largely through editing or reactionary shots of those around her, also presents her condition as containing moments of humour. Similarly, Alice is not depicted as being some sad, injured woman who should garner empathy. Her illness can, and does, impact negatively on those closest to her.
The pacing of the film is off at times, and despite a relatively short running time there are moments that drag. This is nothing to do with the direction nor cast of the film, but rather due to the writing itself. The script is sparse, and there are, quite simply, not always enough moments of conflict or drama to consistently drive the script forward. Naturally the script attempts to veer clear of any hackneyed dramatic moment in its strive to present a realistic depiction of Alice’s character, but really, repeated moments of her television show are not truly necessary to develop her story and as such could have been trimmed.
In a similar critique, the script does at times demand too much of its audience in its request for suspension of disbelief. It never really rings true that a television studio, even one in dire financial straits, would allow a show such as Alice’s to go on air when taking into account the potential legal implications of her manner of frank confessionals in which she readily and freely accuses past acquaintances of past transgressions.
Despite this, Welcome to Me is a highly enjoyable film, featuring an engaging and charismatic performance from Wiig who has certainly proven both her comedic and dramatic ability and as such should be rewarded with a greater variety of roles that suit her range.