334. Welcome to Me

★★★

“Welcome to Me” declares very early on that this is a movie that will not be making fun of its mentally-ill protagonist Alice Klieg. The film announces that we will get occasional laughs from the eccentricities of Kristen Wiig’s fractured but formidable Klieg, but that we will not spend 90 minutes guffawing at her like a circus animal trapped in a live television cage. Instead, the movie beckons us to consider just how quickly society is to take advantage of someone like Klieg in her damaged state, and how after the whole ordeal has reached its credits, showing us just how little we have learned.

Alice is a soft-spoken, bizarre woman who suffers from a personality disorder that hampers her personal and professional life. She still has friends and a loving family, but they’re constantly in a state of having to attend to her emotional wounds without Alice reciprocating the favor in any way. When Alice wins over $80 million in a lottery, she is inspired to channel her newfound wealth into becoming an Oprah of sorts at a local television station.

The station, owned and operated by brothers Gabe (Wes Bentley) and Rich (James Marsden), is reluctant to have Alice on the air. But when she announces her newfound wealth, Rich’s pupils are replaced by dollar signs, only able to see the endless wealth this enigmatic woman can provide. It doesn’t matter if Alice is using day actors to reenact embarrassing scenarios from her youth, or eating giant morsels of cake for minutes on end, this trainwreck is a show that must go on, and on, and on.

While Alice has gone off her medication, skepticism is the drug of choice for her inner-circle: her best friend Gina (Linda Cardellini) is apprehensive to the idea, and her therapist Dr. Daryl Moffet (Tim Robbins) also knows it’s a sure failure, but isn’t in a position to speak up to stop her. Two women employed by the station, Dawn (Joan Cusack) and Deb (Jennifer Jason Leigh), are distraught over the prestige of the station, and their jobs in general.

Yet each of their problems, directly attributable to Alice’s show, are handled outside of her center stage. Gabe and Rich throw down in a parking lot outside of the studio, and Deb quits her job over frustration with ownership. Dr. Moffet bids adieu to Alice after things get too wacky, and it’s’ only Gina who has the gall to speak up and say “Alice, fuck your condition, you’re just a bad friend.”

The extended cast is exemplary, a who’s who of actors during their best and brightest. Writer Eliot Laurence blends satire with sharp criticism against the health and media industries, and director Shira Piven has a steady eye to evoke emotions and laughs when they’re called for most.

The movie succeeds primarily because of Wiig’s performance, breathing full life into a character that could just be a one-bit shoehorn into an SNL sketch. We are equally endeared to Wiig’s Alice as we are frustrated by her. We find ourselves questioning whether one can fully hold her accountable for her bad decisions  because of her disorder, and if not, which of her misguided actions are we allowed to fully critique. By the end of the film, with most of her money spent and still not a soul left to talk to, we’re bewildered by whether we want to give Alice a hug or stay 100 feet away from her apartment at all times. She’s a character with a long-lasting impact, a spirited being whose metnal ethos is best taken in small doses.

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