Not very welcoming.
Synopsis: When a devastating attack shatters Mark Hogancamp and wipes away all memories, no one expected recovery. Putting together pieces from his old and new life, Mark meticulously creates a wondrous town where he can heal and be heroic. As he builds an astonishing art installation—a testament to the most powerful women he knows—through his fantasy world, he draws strength to triumph in the real one. In a bold, wondrous and timely film from this revolutionary pioneer of contemporary cinema, Welcome to Marwen shows that when your only weapon is your imagination… you’ll find courage in the most unexpected place. (Universal Pictures)
Starring: Steve Carell, Leslie Mann, and Diane Kruger
Writers: Caroline Thompson and Robert Zemeckis
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Rating: PG (Canada)/PG-13 (United States)
Running Time: 116mins
Based on the true story of Mark Hogancamp, also covered in a documentary entitled Marwencol (which I haven’t seen), Welcome to Marwen tells the story of Hogancamp (Carell), a survivor of a vicious beating, and his journey towards moving on and finally healing. For those aware of the documentary and/or whoever has seen any of the film’s promotional material, Hogancamp does this by building a WWII-era Belgian town named Marwen for which he populated with a series of dolls based on the many women from his life.
What was surely meant to be an inspirational story fails to deliver this thanks to its incredibly muddled delivery. It could be the editing and/or the direction, however for the most part, the film is a mess of elements that would never quite work together. The story was presented in two different perspectives, the real world and the world of Marwen, but neither of them were even remotely interesting. The real world saw Hogancamp living a solitary life with his dolls, using them to enact his own narratives while he suffered from the trauma of the beating, losing all of his memories from before the incident. Meanwhile in the animated world of Marwen, the dolls partook in a never-ending war against Nazis.
Over the course of the story, the film would weave back and forth between these perspectives but it would never give us enough reason to care about either one. With Hogancamp, there definitely was potential for a deeper story about overcoming personal trauma, however, the film glosses over this completely in favor of the animated doll story like the idea of the film was just an excuse to use some new technology rather than giving Hogancamp’s story the kind of respect it truly deserves. The story only ever touches the surface with him, making his portrayal vague and problematic. Because of this, Hogancamp comes off as extremely creepy which was sad and only takes away from his inspirational story.
The world of Marwen may be well-animated but it almost didn’t matter as it was simply ridiculous and served very little purpose to the story other than giving insight on Hogancamp’s state of mind. Living in the town of Marwen were a group of female dolls who represented different women in Hogancamp’s life (Kruger as Deja Thoris, Eiza González as Caralala, Gwendoline Christie as Anna, Janelle Monáe as GI Julie, Merritt Wever as Roberta, and Leslie Zemeckis as Suzette respectively). These dolls served little purpose other than placing Hogancamp on a pedestal and their sexualized depiction was counterintuitive. However just like dolls, both the dolls themselves and their female counterparts lacked any type of personality whatsoever and these characters were paper thin.
In spite of everything else, the acting was okay for the most part. They all did the best they could with the truly horrendous material. Carell’s albeit subdued performance as Hogancamp was the best, pretty much by default, giving him some semblance of humanity while also making him super creepy. Meanwhile, the film didn’t offer much in the way of other characters anyway. It was just a shame that the material couldn’t truly do Hogancamp justice and that the rest of the film could never rise to his level. The cutout side characters didn’t exactly help either. Mann looked lost as Hogancamp’s new neighbor Nicole. Kruger, González, Christie, Monáe, Weaver. and Zemeckis were all wasted here, relegated to only uttering horrible dialog as dolls while doing next to nothing as their human counterparts.
Overall, this was an incoherent, albeit well-intentioned, muddled mess of a drama that never seemed to get off the ground. While the story of Mark Hogancamp may be deserving of a feature film, this latest attempt only does not only him but the amazing women in his life a great disservice. The women were as lifeless as the dolls they represented and the film glosses over what could have been a deep look on pain and overcoming trauma and sets it aside in favor for a ridiculous animated world that served no other purpose than a compulsion to showcase the newest animation technology. What was supposed to be inspiring was just a dull disappointment.