Welcome to Marwen
Based on a true story, Welcome to Marwen follows Mark Hogancamp after suffering through a brutal assault by five men outside a bar in Upstate New York in 2000. Before his attack he was a brilliant artist and illustrator, but is unable to continue due to his injuries. After recovering, Mark creates a world starring Captain Hoagie and his female dolls in 1940s Belgium during World War II to cope with his experience. He learns to express himself through the photography of Marwen as a means to escape to a new reality where he controls the narrative.
My expectations of what this movie would be and what it actually was were vastly different. After seeing the trailer, I thought the story would surround Steve Carell's character and his struggle to overcome the aftermath of the attack and facing his assailants in court. I thought we'd see how these important women in his life helped guide him there with an occasional visit to Marwen to enlighten the audience to Mark's inner dialogue and progress throughout his coping process. I was prepared for an emotional journey with a bit of whimsy from some CGI dolls in a fantasy world.
If you thought similarly to me, let me warn you that's not what this movie is.
In reality, Welcome to Marwen is a clunky, aimless adaptation of the truly unique story of Mark Hogancamp and his dolls. Director Robert Zemeckis just completely missed the mark of telling a cohesive story with a coherent message by forgetting the all the compelling, human aspects of these events and focusing far too long on the CGI fantasy world. The first scenes with the dolls were compelling in their execution, but as the movie goes on without enough real human interaction, I found Marwen an exhausting place to be. Hogancamp's work is best showcased through still photographs, so the excessive use of CGI loses the essence of his creativity, not to mention decent pacing of the storytelling. By the film's true climactic moment involving Deja the Belgian Witch, a plotline I saw coming from a million miles away, I found myself rolling my eyes rather than celebrating the breakthrough.
The women of Marwen are under utilized apart from Leslie Mann's Nicol. I appreciated the earnest performance from Mann, but as with the tonal issues throughout, there still wasn't a lot of substance here. Merritt Wever also deserves special praise for her understated performance as Roberta. Janelle Monae's character was virtually nonexistent in human form, which I think was another disservice to a great actress who had more to give... a sentiment I could say for the rest of the female ensemble. The film aches for more from its indelible and diverse cast, but is anything but that by overstaying its welcome in the CGI world of Marwen.
I really wanted to like this movie. I've been spellbound by the direction of Steve Carell's career lately. He's been choosing these emotionally driven, indie roles and excelling. (If you haven't seen Beautiful Boy, you're really missing out.) This terrible screenplay unfortunately distracts from Carell's touching performance. He did what he could with what he had. And despite being utterly overused, I must give my highest compliments to the CGI department on a job well done. It really is marvelous how they executed that world. There are some emotional and even comedic moments, but they're overshadowed by all the film's other faults. Overall, Welcome to Marwen is an ambitious movie with no discernable message about overcoming trauma or addiction, nor takeaways like how important self-expression is or even friendship and acceptance. Bits of each of those are there, but it never quite comes together.
Brit's pro tip: In case you're not aware, there is a 2010 documentary about Mark Hogancamp and his dolls called "Marwencol." I'd highly recommend watching that over this unfortunate misstep of a movie.