We’re All in the Same Swan Boat: Welcome to Me a review ***spoilers***
Today I watched Welcome to Me, a movie that had a brief run in theaters in 2015. I discovered it buried in Netflix’ Independent Films. Welcome to Me stars Kristin Wiig (SNL and Bridesmaids) as Alice Klieg, a woman who wins an 86 million dollars jackpot in a California Sweepstakes Lottery. Prior to the big win, Alice’s income was a monthly disability check from the State of California.
Alice has borderline personality disorder, a serious mental illness that makes it difficult for her to regulate her moods.
Her illness results in impulsive behavior and fear of abandonment. Alice’ self-absorption and inability to let go of past traumas limits her perception of reality, herself and the world around her. Directed by Shira Piven (Fully Loaded), written by Eliot Laurence (The Big Gay Sketch Show) Welcome to Me has a great, though underused cast including, Joan Cusack, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Linda Cardellini, Wes Bentley, James Marsten and Tim Robbins.
Before her big win, Alice spent most of her time in her cluttered but color-coded apartment, watching old VHS tapes of Oprah shows.
Her eyes glazed, Alice mouths Oprah’s lines. As Oprah delivers them, Alice nods her head, joyful in her certitude of how the world works. Despite her isolation and inability to focus on anyone but herself, Alice (Kristin Wiig) never descends into parody. Wiig is a wonder in this role. It’s truly impressive work. Alice has a long-term and loyal friend, Gina, an amiable ex-husband and a concerned therapist (Tim Robbins).
Convinced that she can regulate her disorder through restricting the carbohydrates in her diet, and much to her therapist’s dismay, Alice is off her meds.
Alice claims her reward at a televised-event. And then she announces on camera that she self-soothes through excessive masturbation. After the reward event, she attends a taping of her favorite local protein product cable show. Somehow, she hijacks it, making it all about her. Convinced that her protein show debut is a success, Alice decides to produce her own reality show. The title of her show is Welcome to Me. “Me” is Alice. Moreover, not only is she the star of the show, she will have no guests.
She, Alice, is the only topic on Welcome to Me. Oh, and she wants to enter by riding on a swan (a cart made to look like a swan).
As his studio team shoots nervous glances at each other, the production company owner (James Marsden) flashes a big smile and takes Alice’s 15 million dollar check. Alice sobs while recording her theme songs as local actresses line up to appear in show segments, re-enactments of the traumas in Alice’s life. The show is not all about trauma. Cooking segments feature Alice making her favorite low carb high protein recipes including a cake shaped meatloaf covered in frothy mashed potatoes.
Predictably, Alice becomes a celebrity.
Her unfiltered revelations, outbursts and the bizarre premise of the show tops the most exhibitionistic, exploitive of the competing reality programs. One student fan tells her that she has created a new genre: the narrative infomercial. Alice funds upgrades in production and the show gains viewers. Unfortunately, her narcissism shuts out even those loyal few, including her new lover, Gabe (Wes Bentley) the cable host. Hi-jacking Gabe’s protein powder infomercial was Alice’s first on camera experience.
I hesitate to call the following a spoiler: The story follows a familiar formula.
A star is born. Then the star is corrupted. Predictably, the corrupt star pays the price for bad behavior by being exposed, literally in Alice’s case; she walks nude through a casino. This results in the star being deserted by those who loved her for her regular-person-self. Eventually, the star realizes her wicked ways and makes amends. All is forgiven and the humbled star, no longer a star, goes back to her old life.
I suppose that her extreme behavior could have led to even more celebrity.
Becoming a celebrity, ala Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame,, could enable Alice to enact even more bizarre scenes in exploring the sad inner life of Alice. Perhaps she could make a movie or do an HBO Special. Better yet, Amazon and Netflix might have a bidding war to create a “Me” series. And the series’ last episode ends in a close up of Alice’s shining tears as her lips tremble with the message, “I made it happen and so can you.”
What is Welcome to Me trying to say? That mental illness can be compelling entertainment?
When it comes to the world of reality TV and the self-involved, Welcome to Me is not that unreal. I’ve never watched any of The Bachelor, American Idol, no dancers, no Ice loves Coco, none of the Housewives, no Kardashians, and certainly none of the addiction and teen mother ones. A lot of people do and perhaps by seeing others struggle, their own problems are easier to bear. I don’t know.
Life, however short or long, painful or pleasurable, with fame from accomplishments or with none of it, is fleeting.
We’re but a tiny blip on the timeline and we yearn for it to mean something, anything, any mark that says we were here. By dramatizing her traumas, Alice insists as Willie Loman’s wife Linda did, “Attention must be paid!” My pain matters; I matter.
Because of the severity of her illness, Alice fails to see the pain of others.
And she fails to see that she is more than her pain. She does finally, catch a glimmer of truth, and her future may not be as bleak as it was before her windfall. We engage the world through our interests, the roles we play, and our connection with other human beings. We are complex beings in a complex universe. We are not unique, and who would want to be? How lonely.
Like Reality TV, the Internet brings out the best and the worst of us.
We face an endless selection of opinions and facts. But there’s also the power to explore the world of whatever you choose. I’m a sci fi geek, I read Mad Magazine until well into my twenties. I dance like no one’s looking; and I’m usually right, they’re not. Also, I love tech with all its implications and consider myself a futurist. Most of those tech results will happen long after I’m gone. Here’s hoping that I live long enough to see us on Mars. A good horror book or movie is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Well-written books of history are another. I write fiction and design posters. I love to opine whether suitably informed or not. That’s me, but not all of “me.”
Today’s marketing reality concerns reinventing yourself as a “Brand.”
Some people are really good at this; others, like me, not so much. What I’ve discovered as I explore the work of my fellow bloggers and material related to their posts, is that I have remained to true to myself, a self I more fully see as I “like” and comment, tweet and share. So in a sense, my blogging, likes, comments, tweets and shares have become a “Welcome to Me.”