Mental health is a tricky topic to tackle sensitively in film, no less so when that particular film is a comedy. Shira Piven’s Welcome to Me (2014) achieves the impossible in delivering laughs all the while carving out a central character with a disorder who’s not only well defined, but also an honest reflection on what it is to be off-centre. Kristen Wiig stars as Alice Klieg, an unemployed and single sufferer of borderline personality disorder who hides away, thriving off watching old recordings of Oprah episodes. When she unexpectedly wins $86M in the California Stacks sweepstakes, she fires her therapist and moves out of her colour-coordinated apartment and into a casino.
In an effort to be like her idol, Alice spends millions to have her own TV show, in which she bakes meatball cake and neuters pets. But as the show becomes more and more unhinged, so too does Alice. Occupying almost every scene, Wiig is the heart and soul of Welcome to Me. An experienced comedic performer, Wiig expectedly nails the films humorous moments. But it’s the dramatic ones that come as a surprise. Her performance is one of a thousand words said with a single deadpan expression that elicits immediate laughter, only to provoke thinkings about Alice’s mental instability quickly after. The script, which comes from first time writer Eliot Laurence, hits the nail on the head in terms of creating a heartfelt and sharp insight into the mind of someone with a personality disorder.
Alice’s moods and actions are erratic, which doesn’t make for a typically investing character, so kudos to Laurence – and to Wiig – for making her so. Wiig is surrounded by a supremely talented supporting cast, who all make their parts worthwhile, big or small. Admittedly, the film does struggle when it enters the final act and Alice turns her selfish streak around too quickly to be realistic. But the ride up until that point, through numerous crazy episodes of Alice’s talk-show and the very real struggles she experiences at the hands of her mental illness (the coldness from her mum and the frequent bouts of panic and hysterical crying) are worth the ticket price alone. Together with the help of director Piven and Wiig, Laurence’s script – a true original piece of work – has found its voice, and Welcome to Me deserves as much attention as possible, for its funny, frank and a little bit heartbreaking – a package of emotions delivered with skill.
The Edinburgh International Film Festival programme, ticketing details and more can be viewed at edfilmfest.org.uk.