May 08

“Welcome to Me”: A Different Kind of Therapy for Borderline Personality

Kristen Wiig stars in the new indie dramedy Welcome to Me, written by Eliot Laurence and directed by Shira Piven. IMDB describes it as “(a) year in the life of Alice Klieg, a woman with Borderline Personality Disorder who wins Mega-millions, quits her meds and buys her own talk show.”

MORE ABOUT THE PLOT OF WELCOME TO ME

John DeFore, Hollywood Reporter:

Wiig’s Alice Klieg was diagnosed as a youth as a manic-depressive. While the diagnosis changed over the decades (her shrink, played by Tim Robbins, currently calls it Borderline Personality Disorder), Alice didn’t: Shelves of VHS tapes and a collection of ceramic swans attest to a lifelong fixation on a shallow sort of self-examination, the kind of hear-my-voice empowerment daytime TV was built on. When she wins an $86 million lottery, she seems less excited about the money than about the chance to read ‘a prepared statement’ about the story of her life to news cameras.

THE TRAILER

WHO IS ALICE?

Betsy SharkeyLos Angeles Times: “Her particular brand of disorder means she is, as the saying goes, honest to a fault. Sometimes, that means reminding a good friend of her teenage bikini phobia on national TV, at others, it’s more graphic — like when a sexual urge hits her. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen a lot. More common is her raw emotional vulnerability.”

Christopher Gray, Slant:  “Beneath her acts of character assassination, Piven and Wiig suggest a searching in Alice that makes her both palatable and sympathetic. (The film only seems to look down on her when using her penchant to mispronounce words as a crutch for additional, unnecessary laughs.)…Wiig affords Alice with an occasionally startling range of false confidence and emotional vulnerability…”

Justin Chang, Variety: “There’s no doubt that Alice is effectively enacting a very public, very expensive form of self-therapy, but what makes Piven’s sophomore directing effort…such an offbeat delight for much of its running time is the way it privileges comedy over catharsis…Alice isn’t a puzzle that needs solving — she’s more fun unsolved, frankly — and the filmmakers seem well aware that of all the things this woman may need, our sympathy isn’t one of them.”

HOW MENTAL ILLNESS IS PORTRAYED IN WELCOME TO ME

Justin Chang, Variety: On her TV show, Alice, among other kinds of kooky segments, “proves astoundingly articulate on the subject of her illness and her treatment; and watches in critical dismay while younger actresses re-enact formative/traumatic episodes from her life.”

Christopher Gray, Slant: “The film rejects a fawning (or even particularly detailed) account of mental illness in favor of a plunge into the deep end of Alice’s bottomless ego.”

John DeFore, Hollywood Reporter: “The film is in no rush to ask whether Alice’s tsunami of ego is eccentricity we can enjoy or a serious illness that merits our concern. Dr. Moffet regularly urges her to get back on her medication, but casting Robbins in the part is like a signal that we shouldn’t take his lefty nanny-state advice too seriously.”

OTHER CHARACTERS

Susan Wloszczyna, rogerebert.com:

While some fine performers like Jennifer Jason Leigh get lost in the shuffle, others manage to stand out: Tim Robbins as Alice’s long-suffering if naggy pill-pushing shrink; Linda Cardellini as her one and only friend; Wes Bentley as the on-air infomercial spokesman whose company produces Alice’s show and who becomes her lover; and James Marsden as his opportunistic brother who serves as the film’s Faye Dunaway counterpart as he encourages Alice’s crackpot decisions no matter the consequences.

Leave it to Joan Cusack—has she ever been less than terrific?—to be the one person to be able to divert our attention from Wiig as the show’s disgusted director who nevertheless occasionally engages in a lively on-air back and forth with Alice as a kind of unseen God-like persona from beyond.

Feb 24

“Return”: Woman Reservist Back from War

The new film Return is about Kelli (Linda Cardellini), a National Guard reservist, who’s served in an overseas war. She returns from war to her husband (Michael Shannon) and two daughters, her job, and her friends, and has difficulty adjusting.

It’s not that Kelli was in the trenches or shooting at people. Mostly she worked with supplies. But she did experience war. She did experience trauma.

And it’s surely a big benefit to this female-centric indie that the writer-director, Liza Johnson, is also a woman. Right, (male) Rex Reed? “A bargain-budget bore,” he calls it. And later adds:

…And what, many ask, are responsible wives and mothers doing deserting their families and throwing their lives in harm’s way to begin with? Debating that touchy subject is a double-edged sword that isn’t about to be resolved in a movie as slow and one-dimensional as Return.

How often does anyone ask the same thing about “responsible husbands and fathers” who go off to war?

Maybe finding a critic who also happens to be a woman would help. How about female critic Dana Stevens, Slate:

Unlike the male soldiers in recent returning-veteran movies (Toby Maguire in Brothers, Ryan Philippe in Stop-Loss), Kelli rarely if ever freaks out on an operatic, mayhem-inducing scale. Her screw-ups are more incremental: She quits her job at a factory in a moment of boredom and frustration (‘this is bullshit!’), or forgets which is her day to pick up her daughter after school. But Johnson is ruthless at showing how those small mistakes can quickly reduce an ordered life to chaos. Driving alone one night after drinking at a friend’s house, Kelli gets a DUI and a must attend a state-mandated AA meeting (where her protests that alcohol ranks low on her list of problems ring true)…

…Johnson’s film remains quiet and precise in its portrait of a woman struggling to keep it together and almost, almost managing…Kelli is no noble martyred war hero but a troubled woman who can be self-pitying, ungrateful, and infuriatingly passive. But even when we don’t like Kelli, we can’t help loving her.

Thank you, Dana—something about your Return review makes me think you’re more in sync with this particular subject matter.

And what, you may ask, about Kelli’s husband? It turns out that he was able to avail himself not only of a spousal support group while she was away but also an extramarital affair—one that’s not ending just because Kelli’s come home.

Stephen Holden, New York Times: “You admire these characters for their considerable resilience while understanding that even the best-intentioned people can break under the stress.”