Jeff Maimberg’s celebrated documentary Marwencol is a must-see. The movie revolves around Mark Hogancamp, a man who was savagely beaten by a group of men and left for dead because they hated Mark for being a cross-dresser. With barely any memories of his former life and unable to afford therapy, Mark created the titular 1940s town with dolls representing himself, his friends and his attackers.
Inspired by Marwencol, Robert Zemeckis, acclaimed director of movies such as Back to the Future and Forrest Gump, tries to make a drama out of Hogencamp’s story but instead fumbles at every stage.
The film, starring Steve Carrell as Hogencamp, takes place years after the brutal attack which left Mark with scarce memories of his former life and struggling to cope with PTSD. Once a former artist, he can barely write his own name. Instead to channel his skills and to help overcome his trauma, he creates the aforementioned Marwencol. His life is further disrupted by the appearance of a brand new neighbour.
Welcome to Marwen is a disaster of tone, pacing, and sheer surrealism. There are a lot of factors in Hogancamp’s stories that are just misused here. Though the dazzling effects of the animated dolls are somewhat impressive (if utterly strange,) these scenes throw the movie off-course and damage any intimacy or quiet exploration that this real-life story truly needs.
For some reason, it’s the women who suffer most in Zemeckis’ movie that is somehow trying to convey the message that women are the best. In a film that stars Diane Kruger, Janelle Monae, Leslie Mann, and Merrit Wever, their use here is confusing and befuddled. In the film, Mark uses over-sexualised dolls that move like a stiff femme fatale of 1940 movies and garble trilobites at him during imagined warfare. There is even one point here one of the dolls, a plastic re-imagining of the hobby store clerk Roberta, who cares for Mark, is topless for a whole sequence. This bizarre obsession with the slinky sexiness of the dolls turns the film into an infantile adventure where Zemeckis even casts his own wife as a porn star.
Steve Carrell is a brilliant dramatic actor but even here he seems out of place. At points randomly screaming whilst thriving on the floor, his awkward and socially inept Mark falters because of this weird attempt to schmaltz him up for a big Hollywood inspirational story. Despite having most of the screen time with Hogancamp, it feels as though we barely get to know him as a character because we’re either deviating to the dolls again or Steve Carrell is shouting. It feels as though the intricacy of Maimberg’s documentary is lost and this now fictional realization of Hogancamp is a cheesy and shallow attempt at a Hollywood-style telling.
The movie is a mess. Instead of focusing on how Mark uses his art to , the film blends the fantasy and the trauma in such a haphazard manner that it is one of the weirdest films you’ll ever see. Nothing truly works here; each element at odds with one another: the actual horror that Mark went through is mislaid for a hammy romantic subplot, the actual aid those around him offered him is misused with the doll vignettes, and the actual effects of PTSD are waylaid and mismanaged.
Welcome to Marwen is an oddity and a movie that does a hefty disservice to Mark Hogancamp and the journey he went through.
Welcome to Marwen is out in cinemas now.