Alice Kleig (Kristen Wiig) is obsessed with Oprah. She records each episode and rewatches them religiously. She truly believes it when Oprah tells the world that everyone has a unique purpose and that our real work is finding out what that is. When Alice wins the lottery jackpot of $86 million, she believes she has found her calling: hosting her very own talk show called Welcome to Me.
In a world where everyone has bought into the belief that they deserve their fifteen minutes of fame and the individual is queen, Alice’s story is the perfect representation of our self-absorbed, narcissistic culture. She believes that she deserves to be the centre of attention, that everyone should care about her and her problems, and that what she has to say is more important than anything else. The difference between Alice and the majority of the population is that she has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.
Alice’s diagnosis softens what could have been a scathing critique on narcissist culture, by allowing for a degree of forgiveness and acceptability to her behaviour that wouldn’t be afforded to others. But more importantly, her behaviour is never excused. And that’s what Welcome to Me gets so right.
When Alice ends up on television for the first time as an audience member at an infomercial taping, she explains to the bemused host Gabe (Wes Bentley) that she has “decided she doesn’t want to be defined by her diagnosis.” And director Shira Piven makes sure Alice isn’t just that. It is wonderful to see a person with mental health issues given such sensitive treatment in such an accessible film. Alice’s personality disorder is not ignored—in many ways it defines her—but it is treated as much a part of her identity as the fact that she has brown hair or likes to wear dresses. It’s just one facet of her existence.
Piven recognizes Alice for the fascinating character that she is: a woman who desperately wants to be accepted by those around her, but who she struggles to understand and communicate with them. Central to this is Wiig’s performance and she still flexes her comedic muscles in the more dramatic role. It’s not that Welcome to Me isn’t funny in an outright way. It is full of laugh out loud moments, but these moments are tempered by a feeling of sadness. Alice is no more self-obsessed than anyone else. She just has a harder time getting any recognition at all, even for something as small as the most basic courtesy of being treated as a person with value.
In many ways, Alice is a metaphor for the isolation that comes with the constant “connections” afforded by modern society. So much interaction is now conducted on screens, or via soundbites, that the world is forgetting how to communicate face-to-face. If you’re not on Facebook, Twitter, or television, if you don’t have enough followers or Friends, there is a sense that you don’t exist. What Welcome to Me makes clear is that it doesn’t matter how famous you are, or how much attention you can get, what matters is finding those few people who can stand to be in your presence and are willing to stand by you through your ups, downs, quirks and bullshit.