Alice Klieg (Kristen Wiig) never turns off her television, in fact she considers it her best friend in the world, and when she’s not watching live programmes she has her extensive collection of videotapes to view, her favourite being Oprah Winfrey’s talk shows – she has one of them memorised, in particular an inspirational speech she believes offers all the life lessons she needs. But Alice is not a well woman, for she has borderline personality disorder and attends a psychiatrist (Tim Robbins) regularly, though he’s not sure how far he is progressing with her as she seems stuck in her own routine, watching TV, seeing her gym worker childhood pal Gina (Linda Cardellini), obsessing over food, oh, and buying a lottery ticket every day…
Ever since television began to establish itself in the homes of the planet, there have been commentators and satirists observing that its effects may not be the healthiest, and even now when it is so much a part of everyday existence for a great percentage of the population, there are films like Welcome to Me which question its voracious appetite for new personalities and novelties to keep the audience sated. This used the prism of mental illness to focus its energies on how individuals can believe everything they see on the box is there to fulfil them in ways a lot of other things in the real world cannot, merely by positioning itself as more real than reality, and Alice comes to think appearing on it will be the answer to all her problems.
Not simply the answer, but a way of demonstrating her issues in a confessional form of therapy, as she rejects her psychiatrist’s advice and starts her own television show called Welcome to Me in place of medication. How she does this is down to winning big on the lottery, millions and millions of dollars, which she channels into a programme she persuades her local, informercial-based station to broadcast because they desperately need the money. With a cast dotted with not all well-utilised famous faces, some with more to do than others, this was really Wiig’s showcase as she was able to play comedy and drama that mixes in her character's mental unbalance, and results in some very strange scenes which have you wondering, wait, is this bit supposed to be funny?
There were laughs all right, yet you quickly question if you should be laughing at a character who is obviously ill. Perhaps the best angle director Shira Piven brought out was that assertion there should be no taboo when presenting mental illness, and that sometimes it can be amusing and other times it can be tragic, yet also it can be selfish, for Alice obsesses over herself in a manner that society and the media have only encouraged, and not just for the afflicted. According to this we are all being invited to judge ourselves as media personalities; Alice has the chance to actually become one, but her constant diet of television arguably has set her up in this frame of mind well before she ever won her fortune as by aspiring to be one with the celebrity sphere the attraction to put yourself out there is irresistible.
Not everyone will have their own show, but now everyone has the opportunity to broadcast themselves thanks to their online presence which can also end up in other media, and Alice threatens to turn into less a human being and more a product she is shilling, all with her permission since she sees how the other people on TV do it and in her twisted manner emulates them. This sees her demonstrating anything from her diet tips (spending five minutes of airtime eating a meatloaf cake) to dramas drawn from her most traumatic experiences that she interrupts with yelling and crying to neutering dogs live on air (she used to be a vet’s assistant), and she builds up a big following from that awful fascination the extremes of human behaviour, even the eccentricities, can breed in media consumers. Wiig is a picture of deliberate idiosyncrasy, not quirky but obviously sick, even appearing nude in public in one scene to demonstrate that, not asking for sympathy but more an acknowledgement privacy is no bad thing if this is the alternative. A little too spiky to get on with, maybe, but full of interesting ideas. Music by David Robbins.