I loathe political correctness in all its forms, but particularly as it applies to art. Be it the soul-sucking idiocy of demanding cultural authenticity in casting, blanket condemnations of some “ism” by the cultural debt counters, or the wails of some grievance group as one of their own is skewered for comedic purposes (Robert Downey Jr.’s “retard” riff in Tropic Thunder comes to mind), the effect is the same – to straightjacket creative endeavor so it presents like a PSA. The only good that comes of the p.c. influence is groveling apology (see Cameron Crowe bootlicking because he cast Emma Stone as a quarter-Asian, quarter Hawaiian: “I have heard your words and your disappointment, and I offer you a heart-felt apology to all who felt this was an odd or misguided casting choice”), self-serving explanations (see Matt Damon having to backpedal after having been caught on camera rejecting affirmative action and – gasp! – using the word “merit”: “My comments were part of a much broader conversation about diversity in Hollywood and the fundamental nature of ‘Project Greenlight’ which did not make the show. I am sorry that they offended some people, but, at the very least, I am happy that they started a conversation about diversity in Hollywood. That is an ongoing conversation that we all should be having”), or inane public proclamations (see Viola Davis, who just last night without a hint of irony or self-awareness equated her struggle to that of Harriet Tubman – Harriet frickin’ Tubman – while accepting an Emmy for a crap TV drama).
With that said, Welcome to Me is an offensive film, and the heart of its offense is in how it deals with mental illness. Kristen Wiig plays a sad shut-in, obsessed with Oprah, who wins the California lottery. She suffers from borderline personality and is off her medication, yet that doesn’t stop a local production company run by Wes Bentley and James Marsden from taking her millions so she can develop her own show. That show is a stage for Wiig to exhibit all the debilitating aspects of her un-medicated disease in a manner that at best is quirky and at worst is truly disturbing.
Okay, so far, so good. If done well, I don’t have a huge problem with making a dark comedy about a mentally disturbed person being taken advantage of. I’ve gone down weirder, filmic roads. So, to be clear, my objection is not to the premise nor do I advocate for the babying of any protected class in art.
But when you take this on, you can’t have your cake (using the disability as comedic tool) and then ask the audience to regurgitate it in shame after the eating.
Essentially, that’s what writer Elliot Lawrence does here. It’s not that the picture is poorly acted or directed or that there aren’t even a few funny scenes. It’s that it is an exploitative film about a sick person being exploited and it wants to both use the illness for yucks while pretending to be brave in showing the true face of that illness. You need a really deft hand for that kind of trick, and Lawrence and sophomore feature director Shira Piven do not have it.
To make matters worse, the movie condescends with a throw-away lame anti-television theme, and in the end, Wiig is transformed into a “winner” with the help of a mere few pills. Available on Netflix streaming, but there are so many better choices.