When Alice (Kristen Wiig) wins an $86 million lottery prize, she goes off her psychiatric medications and purchases time on a local TV channel to broadcast her own talk show. The socially awkward Alice is inspired by Oprah — whose talk shows she can recite verbatim — but she isn't interested in guests or topics of general interest. The show, Welcome to Me, is all about her — from her "dream" opening in which she glides on stage in a swan boat to recreations of dramatic events from her past, such as when somebody at summer camp tampered with her makeup bag. (It seems ludicrous, but how many of us, if we could, would expand our Facebook-Instagram-Vine-Twitter personalities into a TV show all about ourselves?)
The TV show, in all its shambolic, chaotic and navel-gazing glory, gives Alice what she has been lacking: an unfettered voice, even if what she needs to say is banal or misunderstood. Having quit her meds and her psychiatrist, Alice's newfound financial freedom lets her self-medicate with what has always brought her comfort: television, with its familiar, homey patterns and its implied rapt audience.
Shira Piven's dark comedy about mental illness, fame and self-actualization isn't for everyone. But those willing to glide along in the swan boat will find an uneven but fascinating character study — of one unbalanced woman, but also of us all — that opens up as many discussions as it offers uncomfortable laughs. There's not a lot of plot, though something about Welcome's meandering shagginess suits it. And this is a fantastic performance by Wiig, a talented comic actress who, as she did in last year's The Skeleton Twins, can imbue humor with a visceral sadness. It's a tricky role — Alice isn't an easy person to know, and it's unfair to laugh at her — but Wiig elevates her above a comic foil into an individual worthy of understanding, no matter how weird or frustrating she is.