Welcome to Me
Are there places where comedy should not venture, subjects that are so sensitive that presenting them as entertainment and exposing them to the laughter of an audience is morally unacceptable? This is the central question raised by Welcome to Me, a low-budget black comedy that is the second film by American director Shira Piven.
The plot revolves around Alice Klieg (Kristen Wiig), a woman with borderline personality disorder. After winning the lottery and giving up her medication, she is determined to spend her money realising her life’s ambition: to star in a TV talk show presented by her and consisting solely of her own rambling thoughts and erratic behaviour. The unscrupulous owners of a cash-strapped network agree to indulge her, and the result is a cult series in which Alice undertakes, on live television increasingly surreal and bizarre activities, alongside re-enacting painful scenes from her troubled life.
At its best, Welcome to Me is a deeply unsettling film that is sometimes difficult to watch. This is largely thanks to an electrifying performance from Wiig, who perfectly captures both Alice’s endearing irrepressible energy, and her fragile psychological state. Wiig is best known for her parts in screwball comedies such as Will Ferrell’s Zoolander, and her adept comic delivery and deadpan style make Alice a great comic creation. Throughout, the audience is uncomfortably aware that their laughter at the behaviour of a severely mentally unstable woman is ethically dubious. The film, though, is far from glib in its treatment of Alice’s condition and does not gloss over the immense harm her narcissistic project does to her own wellbeing and her relationship with those around her, in particular her best friend Gina (Linda Cardellini).
The film is let down, however, by the weakness of its other elements. Secondary characters such as the show’s producers are entirely overshadowed by Alice and never convince. The film, like Alice’s show, is essentially a one-woman effort. Disappointingly, the upbeat conclusion seems to backtrack on the earlier critique of television and celebrity culture in favour of a sunny Hollywood ending. Nevertheless, while Piven’s film is undoubtedly flawed and uneven, the bravery and humanity with which it depicts mental illness mean that it is never less than compelling.
Welcome to Me is released nationwide on 25th March 2016.
Watch the trailer for Welcome to Me here: