By Bill Arceneaux
Few movies treat mental illness seriously, and even fewer are able to balance between the drama of it all and the comedy. I always go back to the great As Good As It Gets—the movie that helped me learn about my OCD/anxiety—as it was able to expose the quirks people with such disorders might have without being mean about it. There is tragedy in the characters pain and actions, but also comedy and fun. Whimsy, I guess is how it would best be described.
Some movies, like Lars Von Trier’s brilliant Depression Trilogy (Antichrist, Melancholia, and Nymphomaniac) go for a more sad beauty, choosing to penetrate our senses in an attempt to express what it is actually like to feel and think as someone with an illness. From the inside out for the audience is how that’s done.
Maybe the trick is to be both whimsy AND demented in both the sense of humor AND the state of agony. A sweet spot that brings in the mainstream and gets them thinking throughout.
Welcome to Me, on both a personal and professional level, is one of my favorite films thus far in 2015. It may not be as joyful as As Good As It Gets, but the playfulness on hand is infectious. Does anyone recall the Pre-Guardians of the Galaxy James Gunn film Super? It had a similar approach and spirit towards mental illness, while not being specifically about that subject. It was also just as twisted. Brilliantly so, actually.
Kristen Wiig plays a woman who has gone off of her medication, which had been helping her deal with borderline personality disorder (previously diagnosed as bipolar, and manic depressive before that). This is the starting point for our story. She walks up to strangers on the street, and asks eccentric things like “Was there a rape in ‘A Tale of Two Cities?’” No context, just the question. Her old box television is always on, and she is always gravitating to it—even going so far as to try and climb inside. Tapes of Oprah episodes run on repeat, which she knows by heart. As someone who deals with OCD, I can safely say that I highly relate to this character and performance.
She wins the lottery, which for a person going through a trying period of nervous and emotional breakdown is like giving a mountain of crack to an addict, and proceeds to purchase local TV time for a talk show all about herself. What she produces is uncomfortably hilarious and pleasantly disturbing. Her mind is exposed to her community, and she is oblivious to the gravity and nature of her actions. The deeper she goes off the cliff, the further we start questioning our response to her—from initial laughs to awkward concern. It’s amazing.
Wiig is absolutely brave here, taking on a subject mired by ignorant stigma and forcing viewers to engage and empathize. She embodies the struggle people face in accepting help from others, in refusing assistance to maintain the veil of independence—when they themselves are slaves to their own issues. She embodies that need to escape, to hide from it all and crawl inside yourself, to completely withdraw from society and stay within your safety bubble. She embodies the worst of what can happen down a dark tunnel and the best when you make it through to the other side. She takes what would’ve just been simple quirks by any other actress and makes important behavioral details, which only deepens our gradual understanding of the character and strengthens our hope for her to get well. Blue Jasmine, this is not.
I don’t think I’ve liked and loved Wiig more than I have in Welcome to Me. I don’t think I will like many other movies this year more than I have Welcome to Me. Maybe… but it’ll be hard to top. Mad Max: Fury Road might do it. Might, mind you. But it won’t be this kind of whimsy. Apples and oranges, perhaps.
5 / 5 *s