5 Things Kristen Wiig's new comedy gets right about borderline personality disorder
Welcome To Me is a comedy in the way that watching a drunk girl tripping around a dance floor is funny. While there is no question that Kristen Wiig? is probably one of most talented comedic actors we have, Welcome To Me is only funny if you are comfortable laughing at someone who has a severe personality disorder.
Wiig plays Alice, a woman with borderline personality disorder (a serious and disruptive mental condition) who wins an 86-million-dollar lottery and uses the money to fund her own television show. The filmmakers don't shy away from the symptoms and do a good job at meeting the main criteria for the disorder, which are generally marked by problems with regulating emotions and thoughts, impulsive and reckless behavior and unstable relationships with other people.
To be diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) you must meet the majority of the criteria presented in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a manual published and updated by the American Psychiatric Association and used as a guideline by mental health professionals. There are nine criteria which indicate aspects of BPD in all, and the patient needs to demonstrate at least five in order to be diagnosed. These are the five that screenwriter Eliot Laurence nails.
The type of impulsivity that psychologists see in those with borderline personality disorder is usually marked by dangerous behaviors, such as excessive spending sprees, unsafe sex or binge eating. Check, check and check. Wiig's Alice takes her lottery winnings and rather erratically spends the money on making a TV show all about herself; no expense is too great. She has no problem spending more and more to make the show bigger and bigger. Arriving in a swan boat and professing to be obsessed with Oprah, she treats her TV show audience to her views on everything from cooking to dog neutering.
2. Seemingly mundane events may trigger grandiose emotions
Within the context of her TV show Alice will begin a segment and then cry uncontrollably when she reenacts seemingly trivial events... and this happens multiple times during the movie. Alice has hired actors to do inconsequential scenes from her life, such as one moment when someone steals from her makeup bag. In this scene within a scene, she starts screaming at the actress playing herself, while she relives the event. Since it is live TV, she has to be cut off and we cringe for her.
3. A pattern of stormy relationships with family and friends
She sees a therapist, played by Tim Robbins, which is an important plot point when she's gone off her medication and he tries to place her on a psychiatric hold, otherwise known as a 5150. If you were paying attention during the Britney Spears and Amanda Bynes breakdowns, you should be familiar with that term. A 5150 hold is part of the California welfare code where a clinician can involuntarily commit a person who they deem a danger to themselves and others. The film does an even better job at portraying her stormy relationships with her loving friend Gina (Linda Cardellini) and long-suffering ex-husband (Alan Tudyk).
4. Sexually inappropriate and dangerous behaviors
A certain type of sexual risk taking is not uncommon with borderlines, and in Welcome To Me, Alice engages in sex frequently with just about anyone to whom she's experienced sexual attraction, making the audience even more awkward and uncomfortable. While the hypersexuality can be indicative of a personality disorder, the way it's portrayed here seems to be a little more from the filmmakers' perspective and not what Alice would be experiencing if it were real life.
5. Extreme emotional reactions
In the film, Alice intensely latches on to diets, low sugar, high protein and low "carbohydrants" (one of many words she hilariously mispronounces that no one ever corrects). Like hypersexuality, extreme eating patterns can also be associated with BPD, yet through this extreme dieting Alice comes off as self assured, trying to project a positive self image. As a matter of fact, when she wins the lottery she says that it wasn't luck but rather that she had willed it through positive energy.
When the film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, the scene that had everyone talking was when Wiig is completely naked and walking through a casino. The audience roars, but what they were really seeing is the culmination of an intense and emotional mental breakdown.
Usually Hollywood uses portrayals of mental disorders as a touchstone moment for the world to gain awareness about a hidden problem. But in Welcome to Me, it's the focus of pure hilarity... and the depths of sadness.
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