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A lottery winner gives television more of herself than anyone could possibly want

There is nothing funny about Borderline Personality Disorder. Those afflicted with it sometimes can’t help but cause suffering for themselves or others – or both.

And that’s why “Welcome to Me” is only about half as funny as it should have been.

Let me confess that I love the premise of this movie anyway. It’s brilliant. It is often very funny. And Kristen Wiig is just the right actress to star in it. She’s often extraordinary.

But this dark comedy continually returns to the realities of a heroine who suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder which makes it too dark to be as funny as it yearns to be – and so often succeeds in being.

Mental illness, simply, isn’t funny. “Craziness” can be. Mental illness is a medical category. We trust in professionals and pharmacology to deal with it. “Craziness” is the stuff of conversation and narrative. It’s anecdotal. It’s the stuff of stories – or conversational pop judgments like “see ‘Birdman;’ it’s crazy” or “don’t go out with her, she’s nuts.” Many of us love to use it as praise. People have been doing it for centuries.

But mental illness is suffering – for someone, maybe everyone – waiting to happen.

See the film anyway. The premise that I love here reminded me of a terrific but obscure Terry Southern book called “The Magic Christian.” That was about billionaire Guy Grand, a malevolent fellow so rich he can turn the world into a succession of gigantic practical jokes, most of which are too dark to be jokes – which is what makes a few of them so darkly funny.

The idea here is that Wiig plays an afflicted woman who admires Oprah more than life itself and who wins $86 million in the lottery. She decides, forthwith, to move lock, stock and barrel into a gambling casino to live and to use her new riches to put herself into the Oprah Business.

That is, make a TV show, with her as the host. What will it be about? ask the people at the informercial studio that she’s hired to help make it.

All about her. And, oh yes, she wants to make her grand entrance on the first show in a swan boat.

It’s all “crazy,” i.e. eccentricity to the nth degree, with no harm, no foul at first. Which is good for the movie. It’s funny.

That’s because people find it very difficult to say “no” to those with $86 million and a checkbook ever at the ready. There’s a potentially hilarious movie there – Terry Southern style if they wanted to get really dark and nasty.

That movie, thank heaven – and director Shira Piven and a terrific cast, and a brilliant star – is here to some small degree.

She goes on the air to eat a meat loaf cake with sweet potato icing. And to tell the world such things as what it’s like to find a pubic hair shaped like a question mark on her pillow.

Too much information? No such thing for her. She is beyond “inappropriate,” which is a truly wonderful thing to be in a chicken-livered world that has adopted “appropriateness” as a criterion of human worth.

Why not settle some childhood scores while she’s at it? She’s the one with the checkbook. Her next segment? As she bills it, “smelling things before they happen.”

Why not neuter dogs live on TV? You know, to keep the animal population down. She used to be a veterinary nurse, after all, when she was still employable. The segment begins with her joyfully invoking us to join her with “let’s castrate!”

The movie’s premise is that these TV professionals-for-hire have to humor her because their business has been shaky lately and, well, she has $86 million. It’s also a given in such a comedy that she’ll develop a coterie home audience of “craziness” connoisseurs (among whom is a college student writing papers about her, whom she seduces with the peremptory Kristen Wiig compulsiveness with which she does everything else).

But then the movie can’t help but return to Tim Robbins as her therapist who – along with everyone else in her world – would rather not cut ties with someone so rich and so impulsive, even if he really would prefer that she take the meds that she has long since forsaken.

As long as the movie can somehow stick to “craziness” – that anecdotal world where exceptional things happen and ordinariness is put into its dreary place with all our blessings – “Welcome to Me” careens into truly funny stuff.

But the movie knows, too, that what we’re watching is a clinical crisis whose careening, much more logically, is toward a medical climax. It doesn’t steer its course in Eliot Laurence’s script as gracefully as “Silver Linings Playbook” did.

Director Piven is the older sister of Jeremy, whose movie “Entourage” is about to join your friendly neighborhood megaplex.

The surrounding cast – partly because of Piven, partly Wiig I suspect – is wonderful: Joan Cusack and Jennifer Jason Leigh have small parts. Bigger ones are had by Wes Bentley and James Marsden (who is, at the moment, the best thing about the darkly dreary and uncomic “The D-Train”).

The people who made it want us to continue laughing at “craziness” – or at least smiling benevolently in its direction – when we have long since settled into the worried frowns of people watching others’ suffering.

Because of its cheerfully satanic “money talks” premise, it is still very much worth seeing.

email: jsimon@buffnews.com

WELCOME TO ME

3 stars

Starring: Kristen Wiig, James Marsden, Wes Bentley, Tim Robbins, Joan Cusack, Jennifer Jason Leigh

Director: Shira Piven

Running time: 103 minutes

Rating: R for sex, graphic nudity, language and brief drug use.

The Lowdown: A woman wins $86 million in the lottery and uses her new wealth to create a TV show all about her.

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