Welcome to Marwen is a tale inspired by the true story of Mark Hogancamp, whose fictional town of Marwen(col) is the stage for his photographic self-therapy in response to the PTSD from suffering a group beating outside a bar that left him without his memory.
I know this almost purely because of being aware of the documentary - Marwencol - and because I saw the trailers.
Watching the movie, however, is quite the mess and example of poor screenwriting.
Robert Zemeckis is a talented and interesting filmmaker, this we know. He’s behind many a smart movie and many a movie that isn’t afraid to try something different. The problem is, trying something different is not always the answer. For every hit, like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, there is an uncanny valley-type miss, like the Jim Carrey A Christmas Carol. Welcome to Marwen is another case where Zemeckis fails. And another case where he didn’t really need to make a movie when there is a competent enough documentary about the true story out there. Unlike The Walk, however, there is nothing captivating or emotional about Welcome to Marwen.
There is a big problem when you’re 45 minutes into the movie and you’re heavily aware that things are either so subtle or so heavy-handily explained that you realise you actually have no idea what’s going on. You realise that you don’t know half of the characters and you realise that you don’t care about any of them.
There’s a much more interesting story in Welcome to Marwen, but you never get to taste it. Janelle Monáe for example is criminally underused, given one flashback and then is immortalised as a doll for the rest of the film as a fantasy. Every woman in this film is relegated to fantasy or shoehorned romance.
Plot threads are left lingering. Leslie Mann has a cartoonishly evil stalker ex that equates to...nothing. He just disappears. Once again, immortalised as a doll and that’s his only appearance in the rest of the movie.
The inhabitants of Marwen are as basic facsimiles of characters as everyone in The Wizard of Oz. Where that does that purely for “oh yeah...” reaction, Welcome to Marwen should be doing it to flesh out more of the story and the trauma. The most fleshed out inhabitant that’s not Steve Carrell (still trying to surpass comedy like all comedians past their true prime) is the literal personification of his addiction. Played by Diane Kruger. For...some reason. (The accent)
It’s just so alienating to give us a fictional town full of one-dimensional women played by a brilliant cast of actresses, but only have them play background/one-scene parts and then make the rest of their performance the true definition of uncanny valley.
Zemeckis has somehow managed to waste Gwendoline Christie, Eiza González, Janelle Monáe, Diane Kruger, Leslie Mann, and even his own wife (who, by the way, is a pornstar that’s Carrell’s favourite actress in this film).
For every scene we’re given dialogue about how Carrell’s character calls women the heroes of Marwen, or getting their essence for inspiration, we’re also given a literal objectification of these women in a fantasyland where Carrell is the sole male hero who may wear women’s shoes, but also thinks he can just mack on the newly moved in Nicol (Mann) as he falls deep into the well of his fantasy and addiction.
Welcome to Marwen is jarring and alienating and it fails to deliver on every front. The special effects are unimpressive and once again scream for more work, care, and attention, because much like Polar Express, or A Christmas Carol, or any other time Zemeckis wants to try this approach, it falls flat on its ugly CG face.
The film has two things I enjoyed about it. One is a legitimately great scene and characterisation and character relationship involving Leslie Mann legitimately being interested in the story of Marwen, and the other is the sheer smug eye-wink of Zemeckis making an extended Back to the Future reference. Seriously, when you get to it you will wonder how the fuck he tried to get away with playing with his own work in such a way.
Everything else about Welcome to Marwen is a mess. The screenplay is so sloppy and misses the target entirely. If the focus was shifted and events reordered, maybe it would have been a better told story. (It’s also another case of feeling like none of this actually happened, especially having not seen the documentary yet) The filmmaking is quite the mess, where there is too much exposition through newspapers and so many enigmas in the narrative you give up on trying to get up to speed. Some cuts and transitions work effectively, but for the most part it’s heavily ineffective. Zemeckis once again takes a dip in quality overall, having massively wasted a great story in the want to experiment more with style and technology, all the while failing to do its story and characters justice. I don’t think Zemeckis interned the film to be so sexist, but it does not bode well that in the attempt to make a fictional town full of strong women he failed to make them, you know, real.
It should be a hard pass for you at the cinema, and like myself, maybe you should think about picking up the documentary. Because like I said, Welcome to Marwen has a good story in there somewhere, you just need to find a better angle.