Welcome to Marwen
Aida Vucic | 18/01/2019
A film entirely summarised in the microcosm of it’s trailer, Welcome To Marwen suffers from that all too common affliction of all the best bits being used in the marketing.
Mark Hogancamp (Steve Carell) is an artist. When he was brutally attacked by a violent gang following an altercation at a bar, Mark lost all his memories prior to the attack. Mark finds solace in the fantasy world of Marwen which he’s created, acting out heroics alongside the trusted ladies of Marwen (representative of the women he interacts with in his own life) against the Nazi Germans in World War 2. The world of Marwen, whilst an artistic outlet and a comfort to Mark, is preventing Mark from confronting his assailants and the shame and guilt he feels around his desires and his attack.
As mentioned, Marwen is populated by not only Captain Hogie (the doll version of Mark / his alter ego) but five influential and strong women. There’s Julie (Janelle Monáe), who was a fellow patient of Mark’s whilst in rehabilitation, Anna (Gwendoline Christie), Mark’s Russian and boisterous caretaker, Caralala (Eiza González), Mark’s fellow employee and confidant, Roberta (Merritt Weaver) and Suziette (Leslie Zemeckis), Mark’s favourite voluptuous actress. Following the arrival of a new neighbour Nicol (Leslie Mann), a new doll is added to the group - the sweet talking tea lover, who seems to catch the eye of Mark and Hogie.
What’s truly impressive about Welcome to Marwen is the computer generated imagery feats inherent in creating an epic barbie-esque cartoon world that looks and feels fake, but also captures the actors visages so stunningly as to make the emotion real. There’s none of the fairy princess stuff here; this animation has flying bullets, spurting blood and fight scenes that would parallel any action film. It’s during these sequences where the film picks up momentum and director Robert Zemeckis impresses. But it is also the transition from real life to Marwen which creates some of the dissonance one experiences while watching Welcome to Marwen. What is so odd about Welcome to Marwen is the structure - it is fairly standard, but told through this lens of not knowing what is real and what isn’t. That’s worked before, but typically with a less rote overarching structure, and when combining the two here, exacerbated by the constant transitions from real life to doll life, Zemeckis overloads the audience and, in doing so, makes the emotional hits that much softer.
Another irritation is the films failure to provide insight into Mark’s eccentricities, including his obsession with World War 2, his shoe fetish, his relationship with Wendy (presumably his first wife), his relationship with Nicol as well as the verdict of his assailants. There is never really a payoff around these issues, and while Zemeckis makes clear that the real battle here is inside Mark’s psyche and with his addiction, the audience is still intrigued around the events taking place in his life.
Carell is known for his comedy, but he is also a competent actor, undertaking many serious roles including Little Miss Sunshine and Beautiful Boy. His performance here is wonderful, and he manages to perfectly embody both the crushing nature of Mark’s psychological issues as well as the good hearted, lovable soul that would make all of these people want to help him and spend time with him.
Overall, though, the story lacks direction and falls short of the finish line. As for the women of Marwen, they're under utilised, with only Mann's character getting any real screen time.
For a film based on a true story, it fails to evoke the emotional reaction we’d expect, but nevertheless is an interesting piece of filmmaking.