While it’s not a wall-to-wall disaster — it has a redeeming scene or two — the movie takes the harrowing tale of a man nearly beaten to death and reduces it into a bizarre melange of stifled real-life scenes and overly long doll action scenes. It’s a guarantee you’ve never seen a movie like this before.
Welcome to Marwen aims to tell the story of Mark Hogancamp, an artist with a penchant for wearing high heels and other women’s shoes (in actuality, Hogancamp was an admitted cross-dresser, but for whatever reason, the movie’s producers chose to omit this). He was harassed outside of a bar by a group of men who mocked his proclivity, and they then beat Hogancamp to within an inch of his life.
As a result of the attack, Hogancamp lost every memory in his head, along with his ability to draw. To cope, he crafted a fictional place called Marwen and populated it with dolls — each representative of a woman in his life, along with his own individual doll, Cap’n Hogie — and the intricate display dominated half of his house and the majority of his yard.
Isn’t the doll stuff fun? Or funny?
You’d think so, but honestly, it ends up feeling like you’re watching The Polar Express, director Robert Zemeckis’ 2004 Christmas movie. There’s something creepy and soul-deadening watching these plastic versions of actors. At some point, it hits you that you’re watching a film with half the screentime (or possibly more) dedicated to a bunch of Barbie-type dolls running around on a fake Second World War set.
The movie doesn’t tell Hogancamp’s story very well, then.
It’s a shame that the man’s story went from being told as comprehensively and poignantly as it was in Marwencol to this almost humour-laden depiction. The serious trauma of Hogancamp’s experience is rendered invisible in Welcome to Marwen; when he’s confronted with something that triggers him — and this happens on multiple occasions — he runs off without a word to his house. It’s like slapstick comedy, not like a truly damaged person running for his life.
How is Steve Carell in the role?
Poor Carell does his best, but from one scene to the next, he’s morose, then uplifted, then down again, then sincere, then distracted. There’s no consistency to his character, and perhaps this is due to the after-effects of the attack, but it comes across as sloppy. He feels adrift with this script, going from scene-to-scene dutifully but never really delivering any magic.
The outstanding supporting cast, including Merritt Wever, Leslie Mann, Gwendoline Christie (with a godawful Russian accent) and Janelle Monáe is grossly underused. Arguably, each of these women has a potentially more nuanced story than Hogancamp. Of course, we barely find out anything about them, except for one or two tantalizing details.
So what’s the bottom line?
It’s not clear what Zemeckis’ message is with Welcome to Marwen. The hurried last act seeks to tie everything up into a nice bow, and to some extent it does, but then it just feels cheap. The movie makes a very real, emotional story feel unreal, and that’s not a good thing.
‘Welcome to Marwen’ is now playing in theatres across Canada.Follow @CJancelewicz
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