Cast: Steve Carell, Leslie Mann, Diane Kruger, Merritt Wever
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: When a devastating attack shatters Mark Hogancamp (Carell) 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.
This has been an interesting year for Oscar contenders, as for the most part, all of the traditional Oscar-bait movies that have come out have at least been solid even if they walk away empty-handed. With the exception of maybe Vox Lux, every other release that we usually see trying to grab recognition has done something pretty well in one area or another. Well Vox Lux, you have some company, because Welcome to Marwen is a complete miss in almost every area. With the exception of Carell and Mann’s performances, the visuals are creepy, the plot is generic, and the tone feels borderline exploitive instead of honorable to the real man who still goes through these struggles.
The film follows Mark Hogancamp (Carell), an artist who is beaten within an inch of his life after a disagreement in a bar over his cross-dressing that erases any memories he had. No longer able to be an artist, Mark copes with the pain by taking photographs of Marwen, a village of figurines that is set in World War II Belgium. Starting off with the positives, Carell and Mann both give strong performances based on the rather basic script they had to work with. Carell has a couple of good scenes where we see the full impact of what an attack like this can do to a person and what the real-life consequences would be. Watching Mark battle with these problems and watching his life turn around as the film progresses is one of the few bright spots to this movie and would not have been possible without his talent in the role. On the other hand, Mann fills the role of the supportive neighbor in the most neutral way possible. The script made her character incredibly generic and one-dimensional, and Mann does all she can in the role. If nothing else, she is incredibly pleasant and well-mannered and is the perfect friend for Mark to have. Outside of these two actors, the film misfires in almost every area where it tries to be revolutionary. The thing that most people will talk about is the animation and use of dolls in the film. While conceptually I do not have a problem with this, and Zemeckis seems to have learned a thing or two since making the nightmare-fuel that is The Polar Express, the way the animation is utilized is very strange. For one thing, the dolls are very obviously and overtly sexualized, and the fact that they represent people in Mark’s life makes it even weirder. If I were the real life Mark or his friends portrayed in the film, I would feel incredibly awkward seeing someone I consider a close friend use me as a sexual object even if it is for the sake of his healing and wellbeing. I have to imagine all of these people are embarrassed to some degree and probably wished that Mark’s story remained just in the documentary. Combine all of this with a generic story and a very on-the-nose yet paper-thin explanation of Deja Thoris (Kruger) and her relation to Mark’s addiction to painkillers and you end up with a film that believes it has something important to say, but really never says anything at all.
Overall, every director has a film that hits a rough patch at one point in their career, but to go from movies like Back to the Future and Forrest Gump is a pretty drastic drop off. While there a few good performances and the foundation for an interesting story, the film tries so hard to relate to the audience on an emotional and it just never connects. The one thing I can say about the movie is that it has made me interested in the derivative documentary and seeing what this man actually went through. I do believe this had the opportunity to become a very special movie, but in the end, it was just too unpolished and uninspired to leave much of an impact.
Overall Score: 3.5/10