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Welcome to Marwen has dazzling effects and a sadly compelling story, but the movie's disjointed feel and clumsy screenplay make this invitation easy to decline.
Welcome to Marwen has dazzling effects and a sadly compelling story, but the movie's disjointed feel and clumsy screenplay make this invitation easy to decline.
The movie doesn't seem to be playing near you.
All Critics (139)
| Top Critics (30)
| Fresh (43)
| Rotten (96)
The female characters in Welcome to Marwen are all a little too yielding, a little too understanding... They expect so little of Hogancamp that it's all too easy for him to impress them, and all too easy for us to feel good about ourselves in the process.
A well-meaning, heartfelt, and vigorously engaged tribute to a remarkable person...
Welcome to Marwen is the ultimate Robert Zemeckis movie. This is not intended as a compliment.
I left Welcome to Marwen feeling that Hogancamp had been cut off from agency from his own story, reduced to a cow-eyed dunderhead Candide only more voyeuristic.
But in a complex story of redemption and resilience with the blurring of real life and fantasy, it's one item on a list that contains a lot of other unchecked boxes.
[It] is such an eccentric film that it wins a few points for sheer ambition, including its inventive visual scheme. The central story, however... never feels as transcendent or stirring as director/co-writer Robert Zemeckis clearly intends it to be
An extraordinary mix of technical wizardry and empathetic storytelling.
Visually stunning and anchored by a consummately textured performance by Carell, Welcome to Marwen is an intriguing and original drama looking at pain, guilt and the healing power of art.
The partnership between Zemeckis and Carell is ... what keeps Welcome to Marwen from falling off its own high wire-and finally brings the movie home.
Might be a shallow, even irresponsible biography, but it's a pretty impressive technical exercise. The individual view can decide for themselves whether this is good enough.
...a cinematic mini-landmark.
Though Carell gives a fine performance, the part needed someone more complex, less obvious. A Jim Carrey, maybe, someone to give it an edge. What we get instead is a mushy, softly rounded retelling of a jagged tale best told straight.
When I saw the trailer for Welcome to Marwen my first response was pained wincing. Robert Zemeckis is one of the most daring, inventive, and imaginative filmmakers working today, but this movie just looked misguided with its approach. Welcome to Marwen is so fascinating, so tonally off, that I might almost recommend people watch it.
Mark Hogancamp (Steve Carell) was a war illustrator until the day he was attacked by a gang of neo Nazis. In the ensuring months, Mark has lost portions of his memory, is unable to use his hands to illustrate any longer, and has become something of a shut-in. He has gained notoriety through his new artistic outlet. Mark has created a WWII era Belgian town called Marwen with a group of dolls fighting evil Nazis. We escape into fantasy sequences where Mark imagines himself as Cap'N Hogie and his gang of supportive ladies. Nicol (Leslie Mann) moves in next door to Mark and he takes an immediate interest in her (she even appears in Marwen in doll form). Mark must grapple with his feelings and work up the courage to attend the court hearing to make sure the men who hurt him stay in prison.
I was amazed at how miscalculated Welcome to Marwen plays out. It feels like Steve Carell's Patch Adams, a sentimental movie where every step seems strange, mistaken, maudlin, and false. Firstly, this is the second documentary that Zemeckis has taken and adapted into a live-action film, as if the man is spending the wee hours of his nights pouring over award-winning documentaries of the past and determining which he can add a little razzle dazzle to with visual whimsy. Look out The Cove because maybe an undersea realm of talking dolphins will open up that horrifying Oscar-winner to a whole new mainstream audience. I'd have less of an issue with Zemeckis remaking the documentary if it didn't seem like his entire rationale was the fantasy interludes.
The original documentary is about one man and his unique brand of healing through art. He is becoming further whole by building an intricate world through his imagination. By visualizing the fantasy worlds, Zemeckis is turning the doll segments into literal escapism that becomes tedious, obvious, and often redundant. The doll segments are about his gang of girls supporting him, expressing his interest in his kind new neighbor, and tackling the Nazis in a safe space where he can win. Every time we cut to the doll sequences it feels like the movie is spinning its wheels with these ill advised fantasy cut scenes. It gets boring watching the doll segments without any sense of stakes. The special effects are creepy and there are aspects that amplify this, like one doll's penchant for having her top ripped off in combat, revealing her stout, rounded chest. Keep in mind that the female dolls, with the exception of one, are all analogues for people in his life, so then Mark is consistently indulging in stripping one woman of her clothes. Even though the movie sets this character up to be a potential love interest, it's still not a good choice. Zemeckis intends to literalize Mark's struggles and fears so that he can triumph over them, but it feels like it's minimizing the complexity of trauma into digestible whimsy. With every trip to Marwen, I was eager to return back to the land of human beings where they might still be over-the-top but at least I wouldn't have to watch creepy doll CGI.
The most significant doll is the blue-haired Deja Thoris (Diane Kruger) who is meant to represent Mark's suicidal impulses. He keeps her atop his wall so that she can watch over him, and in his sleep he dreams about her whispering in his ear, "Nobody will ever love you like I do. You should just end it now." Oh man, that's heavy, but when applied through the prism of a talking Barbie doll it loses its sense of seriousness. If you don't lose yourself in the central conceit and take the dolls seriously, the movie will fall flat. Take for instance the cross-dressing aspect of Mark, which is what lead to his brutal beating. It's a delicate subject and something easy to get muddled, and that's exactly what happens in the presentation of this movie. The shoe fetish is initially portrayed as wacky and then becomes serious and then becomes like an artifact of horror. It's another sign that the tone for this movie is mismatched. These things require a delicate touch with some ambiguity and sensitivity. Welcome to Marwen turns these into a loud, noisy cartoon that bumbles into its messages. Things that are meant to be charming or endearing or emotional can come across as goofy or campy or even uncomfortable.
I felt bad for so many of the actors. Carell (Vice) is trying to maintain his character's sense of dignity throughout, but the story often goes into contrived contortions to force him into dramatic confrontations. It turns out the court appearance is rescheduled to be the same day of Mark's photographic exhibit. Will he be able to triumph over these forces to stand up for himself? Carell is a capable dramatic actor but he's struggling here to find stable footing because of the mish mashing tones. The development of Mark makes him come across as a creep in some moments, like his one-sided advances for Nicol, and a simpleton at other moments, where he might have sustained brain damage. Mann (Blockers) is sweet and gentle but strangely the movie hides her most interesting character aspects, like the prospect of a deceased child. You would think overcoming tragedy would be a tool for Nicol and Mark to bond. Merritt Wever (Godless) is another sweet and gentle woman in a world that seems overstocked with them. It feels like everyone in this small town exists just to be nice to Mark. She's clearly romantically interested in Mark but he doesn't care until the very end. She deserves better than being someone's runner-up choice, especially only after he was turned down.
A movie that deals with delicate issues through fantasy escapism can work, but it requires a precise hand with tone and with its storytelling detours. Guillermo del Toro has been able to prove he can tell rich, adult stories with the assistance of whimsical, weird fantasy elements. Charlie Kaufman has been able to weird the mundane and the fantastic. It can be done and Zemeckis has done it himself before, best evidenced by the masterpiece, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. However, Welcome to Marwen is a sizeable tonal misfire. The serious elements don't blend well with the fantasy elements, and even worse, they are made less serious and approach the realm of camp. The fun, fantasy elements are given bizarre and unsettling contexts that make them creepy and inappropriate. Escaping into Mark's imagination winds up stripping him of much of his agency, and literalizing his psychological push-and-pull feels like a misguided examination on depression. I left my theater in a daze, trying to make sense of what I had just witnessed. The filmmakers and cast certainly mean well and want the film to be a triumph of the human spirit. I found it to be two meandering hours of watching somebody play with their disused toys.
Nate's Grade: C-
The outrage this movie is getting is just downright bizarre to me. The movie has it's flaws, yes, it's a very mixed bag, but the vitriol it's getting is entirely undeserved. My biggest issue with it is, I really would have liked to see more of Mark's story outside of Marwen, the story of the attack and his recovery. A lot of the story though takes place inside the fictional town of Marwen that Mark has created as a coping mechanism. Sometimes, this works great. There's an amazing scene showing him becoming overwhelmed, and then becoming entrapped in the town in Nazi gunfire. This sort of parallel works. Other times, we spend too much time in that world, and we lose the parallels and then lose the tension. The stories of Marwen only matter as they relate to Mark, and sometimes the movie gets too wrapped up in it's Nazi fighting dolls. That's a problem, especially at the end with a reveal involving the "witch" of Marwen. I got what they were going for, and maybe given some care could have been powerful, but it's too quick and too weird. But does this kill the movie? Well, apparently for a lot of people, yes. For me, the stuff that was good was good enough to keep the movie afloat. Yes they do go overboard with the Marwen action sequences, and overindulgence in action effects has been a problem for Zemeckis for a while now, but the idea of showing Mark's mental state through the world of Marwen was an intriguing one and once I got over the shock of them telling the story this way I was actually intrigued by the approach. And the human elements are all still extremely good. There's something of a romance that at first I didn't like, but it doesn't go quite the way you'd expect in a very real way. I liked the small little town Mark lives in and getting to know all the people in it, and everyone in this town is charming. Most of all, Steve Carrell absolutely kills it. It's one of Carrell's best performances, and he deserves all the praise in the world for it. If this movie didn't work for you, I get it. But the personal vendetta people have for this movie I will never get. I say see it yourself with an open mind and judge for yourself.
If this were 1997 Tom Hanks would have played Mark Hogancamp and I don't know that Welcome to Marwen would have been any better for it.
As someone who grew up hearing director Robert Zemeckis' work almost unanimously praised through the likes of the Back to the Future films and Forrest Gump as well as Cast Away being my first theatrical Zemeckis experience it seemed as if the man could do nothing wrong and was forever interesting due to his own interests in always trying to push the envelope in some way. The director continued to do this as I came of age and developed more of a taste for more varied types of cinema, but did so in the sense that it would become the era when Zemeckis became enamored with motion capture animation. Between The Polar Express, Beowulf, and A Christmas Carol (all of which I saw and each of which I don't largely remember) it seemed Zemeckis was pigeon-holing himself into a trend he'd never be able to give up and then, in 2012, the filmmaker seemed to re-calibrate his career with the Denzel Washington-starrer, Flight, that made many people sit up and take note of what Zemeckis was up to again. It was Zemeckis' next film though, The Walk, that would really set the stage for Marwen.
Like, The Walk, Welcome to Marwen is a feature adaptation of a story previously told in a documentary that didn't necessarily need a feature adaptation to improve upon the story, but that Zemeckis had clear ideas about how to interpret and convey in bigger and more interesting ways. Given the subject matter with The Walk it was the idea to shoot on large format cameras and in immersive 3D (IMAX VR has a virtual reality experience of this movie, where the guest actually tightropes across the twin towers) while with Marwen the hook is to not only take the audience through the trials and tribulations of Hogancamp's story, but to flesh out how he has coped with the tragedies of his life by bringing to life what can only be imagined as what Hogancamp himself is imagining; this done through animated sequences with Barbie and G.I. Joe figures that Hogancamp has utilized to build his own, alternate world and town that is set in Belgium in the middle of WWII. Long story short, Hogancamp was beaten within an inch of his life in 2000 and lost all previous memories as a result thus pushing him to a place where his fictional town he dubbed "Marwencol" became a place for him to escape to and an outlet for him to create from.
Fascinating, right? It's not difficult to see why a filmmaker like Zemeckis would have a unique take on the material and want to again tell Hogancamp's story, but Zemeckis and co-writer, Caroline Thompson (The Nightmare Before Christmas, Edward Scissorhands) boil this man's story down from what could have been a sweeping narrative about alter-egos and fulfilling ones fantasies through the image one has of themselves in their mind, about creating your own therapy through creating your own world, or about a man who-after losing his memory and being in a coma-had to learn everything over again-both physically and mentally-to a movie about a boy with some issues who meets the new girl across the street that is kind to him, but would never desire to actually be with his weird ass in real life. At least, that's how it all comes off in Zemeckis' film. There are inspired moments, no doubt, as there are hints of how Hogancamp's dolls and alternate reality begin to make their way into what is actually reality and how it becomes increasingly difficult for him to tell the difference, but these never amount to much if anything. The integration of the two worlds is fairly smooth and the intercutting of the storylines unfolding in the real world and in Marwen help to add some momentum to what is otherwise an unfocused mess of emotions, but this is largely a slog. The intrigue of the film should be in the trying to piece together what happened to Hogancamp (more the little details than the broad strokes), who each of the dolls represent in his actual life, and what those people signify in the grand scheme, but Zemeckis fails to ever capture any kind of cohesive tone as characters come in and out with no explanation and are then never seen again to the extent the film as a whole feels like a patchwork of a handful of different ideas rather than a film with a certain perspective on its subject. Zemeckis has a point of view when it comes to how he wanted to relay the story, but no such point of view when it actually comes to telling the story and that's a real issue.
To boot, considering we're watching Barbie and G.I. Joe figures flesh out this world this man is enjoying existing within more than he does the real world and the insane violence depicted as well as strange sexual tension that always lingers it's hard to separate the "interesting" from the "weird". Dammit if Steve Carell isn't endearing as always though; the only other man outside of Hanks that is able to pull off a line like, "reach for the sky" in serious fashion while looking like a plastic doll.
Unique ideas are tossed around from year to year, and sadly, it seems as though less and less are getting made. Sure, there are arguments to be made for the case that there's more original content being made today than ever before, due to the sheer number of television shows and movies all being produced. That being said, it's usually the sequels and remakes that get the attention, because of their name recognition. Welcome to Marwen was one of my most anticipated movies of 2018 because I had faith that it would be unique and memorable. While that may be true in terms of visual style, this movie, for lack of a better term, bored me. I really don't like watching a movie with so much potential, crash and burn on arrival, but this movie is the perfect example of that, even with the positives in mind. Here's why I can't quite recommend checking out Welcome to Marwen.
Following Mark Hogancamp after his brutal attack by some men who beat him for simply being different, Welcome to Marwen is about how he overcame (or struggled to overcome) his past. Building his own world out of dolls to create a more satisfying past for himself, this movie explores what true friendship means and how pain can help move you forward in life. The performances in this movie really do sell the overall true story, but there wasn't enough of anything to go around in my opinion. This movie has so much potential in terms of visual style, but it truly told the story it wanted to tell throughout the first act.
As I mentioned, this movie has a very unique visual style and I have to commend it for that. The way it transitions from animated sequences to live-action footage was seamless from start to finish. I found myself being very impressed by what was being presented on-screen, it's just that it felt like these sequences were tools to drag out a story that was already completed. The movie begins as he is preparing for his court date and then ends with the court case. Everything in between seemed like a well-written book report by a smart grade-schooler who hadn't read the full novel. I'm not saying these filmmakers didn't thoroughly research this story, it's just that it felt like the same story beats were being repeated over and over again.
On the plus side of this movie feeling repetitive and slow, Steve Carrell gives a very commendable performance here. He is also joined by the very likable Leslie Mann as his new neighbour, as well as his cast of dolls in Gwendoline Christie, Janelle Monáe, Diane Kruger, with his most notable companion being the local store owner, played by Merritt Wever. The storyline of their closeness was easily the most enjoyable aspect of this film because it was really the only thing that had progression. Personally, there were quite a few likable characters here, but none of them were fleshed out enough to fully care about in the end.
In the end, I'm sure this true story was very emotional and powerful in reality, but as far as this narrative feature film goes, it didn't do anything to invest me. I was checking my watch as I waiting for the next exciting or engaging moment, but they came too far apart. Quite honestly, the story, the characters, the visuals, and the overall character arc of Mark are all superb here, but none of it is developed enough to become invested in. This story is better suited for a documentary (which has already been done), which is why I feel it felt so long in the end. I can't get myself to recommend this one to anyone, but if you do, you'll probably be able to see the potential in everything as I did.
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