This is not so much a review of Shira Piven’s Welcome to Me (2014) as a glance at some of the questions it raises.
The film is a good one, if you enjoy dark comedy and a particular brand of Kristen Wiig quirkiness. If not, then this film probably is not meant for you. Part Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Birdman (2014) and part Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg (2010), Welcome to Me is not quite as energetic and ambitious as the former while also not quite as dull in its vanity as the latter. Furthermore, the film probably has too much Saturday Night Live in its DNA--think Molly Shannon’s turn in Superstar (1999) and Steve Martin’s The Jerk (1979)--to move entirely beyond the veils of sketch comedy stretched like taffy over just under an hour and a half.
Still, something about the film’s subtleties allows it to clarify some of the murk and shadow in Birdman’s attempted monolith, such as the relationship between mental illness, the production of media, and said media’s consumption. Both of these films contain messy, untidy areas, but they also reveal a brand of comedy that takes what we laugh at more seriously than the comedies most of us were raised on--the human brain is fraught with laughter. The stage is set. The joke is told. The punch line is Wiig’s Alice Klieg walking naked through a casino floor, her body covered in red welts and burn scars. Or, the punch line is Michael Keaton’s Riggan rushing down Broadway in nothing but his underwear, hoping the world will not see him for what he is. Despite one’s male focus and the other’s attention to the female, these two films both appear to be shaped from the same funny bone: Adam’s rib.
While Welcome to Me makes obvious attempts to be at the forefront of feminist comedy, the similarities with male comedies and male protagonists raises if not questions about the world at large, then at least the stories we share about that world.
The arrival of female protagonists in mainstream media outlets has been a triumph, having already arrived near or past the tipping point in what we as audience members expect from the bodies of our heroes. From Tina Fey to Amy Poehler to the sisters in Frozen and the rise of Amy Schumer (the list could be much longer), the gender of the story is shifting away from the male body and towards the female. This change is not something that will occur. This change is already occurring. And, in this shift, archetypes appear to be unraveling under the strains of both adaptation and appropriation. These female heroines, for better or worse, make their selves known to us through variations of the stories we already know.
|"I was totally on the cutting edge before that Frozen movie."|
What Welcome to Me reveals is that perhaps our hopes for the female protagonist are somewhat utopian. This does not mean we should return to having more male heroes, but that perhaps we should reassess the constraints of patriarchal societies. It seems that as we build narratives out of the old tales we are still writing within those tales and that Piven’s Alice Klieg’s attempts to buy airtime in order to talk about herself are not entirely removed from what occurs in Riggan’s dressing room tirades.
Of course, one conversation is an ascent and the other a descent, but even in those movements there is a similar shape and scope; a symmetry not that far removed from a planet’s orbit round the sun. Hence, these plots seem more durable than our gendered selves.
Bryan Harvey can be followed @LawnChairBoys.