|Kristin Wiig as Alice Krieg, in "Welcome to Me."|
Last weekend, I went to see that movie "Welcome to Me." I'd never seen a movie or anything else with Kristin Wiig, so obviously I've been living under a rock or something.
In case you don't know, the movie is about a person named Alice who has borderline personality disorder and who wins a lottery, decides to go off her meds, then makes a series of troubling decisions -- including the decision to spend part of her fortune bankrolling her own TV show, "Welcome to Me," that is all about herself and her life.
Can I say right now: I think this an outstanding premise for a movie. Doesn't any one else? We'll get to that in a moment.
Against all odds, Alice's show becomes popular. There's a great scene in which a young nerdy graduate student interviews her about her radical new approach to visual arts. What was up with the raw emotional life reenactments? And why did those have cross-racial casting? Was she influenced by Cindy Sherman? Alice: Oh, you mean from Laverne and Shirley?
I loved that sequence, because the student's reflections seemed both stupid and silly but also interesting and true, which so many things are -- but you never get to really say so because you'll sound pretentious or you'll hurt somebody's feelings or something. It's brilliant that eventually Alice does come to see herself as an artist.
Eventually, as you can imagine, things spiral out of control, and I'm sure I'm not revealing anything unexpected when I say there are Life Lessons and Reflections on True Friendship and Subplots of Loss and Redemption.
My favorite thing about this movie was that it was funny and sad, sometimes at the same time. Doesn't it seem like funny and sad is becoming an endangered species in movies? Why is that?
There's a great scene where Alice is organizing a TV reenactment of a moment from her childhood where someone was mean to her, and it is ridiculously over the top with costumes, period details from the 1980s, and Alice's outsized need to share her internal pain with a TV audience. It is very funny. Suddenly something goes wrong with the reenactment, and Alice bursts into tears. It is very sad. But it is also still very funny.
It's not funny and sad in the mean way, where you're laughing at someone. It's funny and sad in the good way, the same way it's funny and sad that someone can simultaneously see themselves as a TV superstar and also be crushed because one classmate mocked them a million years ago. That dichotomy is certainly not particular to mental illness -- in fact it seems to me to pretty much sum up the human condition.
I also loved the fact that Alice-on-her-meds and Alice-off-her-meds were clearly the same person. It would have been so easy to make some stupid, pandering, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde bullshit. Alice off her meds gets upset, and is worse at making decisions that she doesn't regret later. But otherwise she's the same Alice.
The big question about this movie, and the one I've returned to ponder over the last few days, is why so few people want to see it. Sure, it's not Hangover III, but it's not 45 minutes of someone eating a mushroom. It's not even "My Dinner with André."
Most movies I like that no one else likes I know immediately why. They're European, or they have subtitles, or they're too thinky with not enough action, or whatever. But this is a comedy, with positive reviews, a famous and attractive movie star, sex and sight gags, and a great modern premise relating to fame and insecurity and all the important twenty-first-century things.
So WTF? Why a very limited theater release with simultaneous hoopla streaming?
Is it because mental illness is still such a scary topic to people? Is it because funny and sad has become too difficult to fit into modern life? Is it because it's about the life of a woman, and, god forbid, actually passes the Bechdel test? Is there some new thing where only guys being gross and aggressive counts as funny?
I honestly don't know.