Welcome To Marwen: Soft Boiled And Jumbled
Robert Zemeckis is responsible for many of cinema’s most beloved films; however, Welcome to Marwen sadly isn’t one of them. In fact, as far as his writing and director efforts go, Marwen marks his career low. Despite the film’s impressive effects and its enthralling true-life source material, you get the sense that Zemeckis doesn’t really know how to tell this story. The result is a jumbled mess of an experience that oscillates between the serious and the absurd with no grace or effect.
When a devastating attack shatters Mark Hogancamp (Steve Carrel) and wipes away all memories, no one expected recovery. Putting together pieces from his old and new life, Mark meticulously creates a wondrous town named Marwen 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.
On a technical level, Zemeckis has crafted another highly imaginative world — this one being an outward expression of inner turmoil and trauma — but it is in no way close to even touching the heels of his work on Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump or Death Becomes Her. When it comes to Welcome to Marwen, it all kinda falls apart with the story, which is inspired on bizarre true events that are surely more compelling in documentary form, Marwencol; the supporting characters don’t have too big of a role, and there aren’t any real twists or revelations that aren’t already painfully obvious to the audience.
Mark’s obsession with the essence of women serves as a nice symbol for the powerful healing quality and soft kindness of feminine energy, but more often than not, he comes off as very creepy on multiple occasions, which was most likely not brought on entirely by the savage beating he unjustly received. While there’s a fair amount of empathy laid on his character, it rings a bit contrived and doesn’t feel earned. The two-hour narrative hike builds to a fizzle that doesn’t have even the tinniest notion of impact or power; the courtroom speech falls flat, as does the animated climax (which includes a silky Back to the Future reference), and we never get any info on the sentencing given to the Neo-Nazi scum (it’s more about facing demons rather than receiving due justice, which just isn’t at all that gratifying).
The animation is pretty incredible though, and Zemeckis’ direction is very tight. In particular, the way he moves in and out of live-action and animation segments is pretty seamless (except for one very glaring instance involving a fade dissolve at his workplace that doesn’t match). It would’ve been a better film if the same attention paid to the visuals was channeled into the development of the screenplay.
This is in no way a career defining performance for Carell, but he’s just as good as you’d expect him to be, stilettos, wedges and all (given the material he has work with). Aside from Leslie Mann and Merritt Wever, the supporting cast is pretty weak, which is no fault of their own. Janelle Monáe, for example, is only given one live action scene and her character is not very defined. It seems that she gave Mark a lot of strength early in his recovery but we don’t see any of that, which is just further evidence of the film’s script issues.
A little doughy and half-baked, and not very memorable in the grand scheme, Welcome to Marwen is still a decent lighthearted experience with a touch of darkness. After all, who doesn’t like seeing Nazis get tore up? It’s just a little bit more cathartic when they’re people, not dolls. It also ups the enjoyment factor when the story is taut, focused and emotionally impacting; all things that are sorely absent from this stinker.
Recommendation: Take a hard pass on this one and check it out (if interested) once it’s available for streaming — or better yet, just watch the documentary instead.
Rating: 2 machine gun wielding Barbies outta 5.
What did you think? Were you extremely underwhelmed and/or disappointed by Welcome to Marwen? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!