So, at the time of starting this review (like a week ago because I’m really lazy), I’d just got back from my first solo cinema trip of the year. It was quite a delight to be back at Cineworld Edinburgh after a couple of weeks off for Christmas. Coinciding with an unlimited card screening of Colette I planned to catch to extra new years releases; The Favourite (it was fine, thanks for asking) and the critically and commercially panned, Welcome to Marwen. I went in expecting the very worst. With Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes scores as low as this it was a miracle I had gotten out of bed so early to see it. Nonetheless, I sat down in a decently attended screen for what was essentially a film that was dead on arrival.
One hour and fifty minutes later, I had laughed, welled up, cringed, and was overall delighted with the output from director Robert Zemeckis. Telling the true story of Mark Hogencamp who was brutally attacked by a gang on Nazis outside a local bar. This left him with long lasting conditions and brain damage. He now takes refuge from the day to day annoyance of the world in his collectable figures and fashionista dolls in which he attempts to make sense of the world. This world, the town of Marwen, is where some of the best moments in the film take place. Zemeckis has been known recently for his flops of CGI motion capture that many say drop into the uncanny valley side of animation, this makes the Toy Story esq world of Marwen a perfect fit for his technology, all of it beautifully rendered with next to no upsetting facial movements. These scenes of the movie are the most out there in terms of spectacle, multiple ending with large shoot outs or Belgian witch tampering (I swear it makes sense in the film). Therefore, you’d be right to think that this amount of surreal comedy and action set pieces wouldn’t gel with this emotional, Forrest Gump-like story of Hogencamp yet, it does and it helps provide relief in moments of melodrama and cringe comedy on Marks day to day life.
Entering these real and make-believe worlds are the women in Mark’s life. This is where the issues begin to arise, some of these can be construed as slightly questionable in terms of his relationship to them. As mentioned, this is where he makes sense of the world, where he relives struggles and brings his fantasies to life. Therefore, there are multiple women that are oversexualised, sometimes in very crude ways, for Mark’s world. One scene sticking out where he creates a scenario where a character’s shirt is ripped off and it is implied that this is a recurring plot point in that world. The king, or should it be queen, is the questionable relationship that Mark has in obsessing over his neighbour across the street (who is delightfully played by Blockers, Leslie Mann). Much of the film is this relationship and many comedic moments are mined from it, it also seems to be one of the main points for many of the negative reviews. I don’t believe this to be the case and simply more of a way of showing the scars that the trauma has left on him and clearly, his social skills. It is this darker side to it that creates a more textured character for Mark, he struggles and tries to understand through the dolls and that is what makes these parallels to the real world unsettling, yet beautiful (in most cases).
Carell is at his best here, a mixture of comedic in the mocap and transformative drama in the live-action bringing elements of each to both settings flawlessly, a much better performance than his other movie coming out soon, Beautiful Boy. He is supported by a somewhat all-star cast. Leslie Mann plays his neighbour in a delightfully sweet role with a darker story going on below. This is something that is only hinted towards, and while it fully fleshes out Marks story to great effect it will start up plot points which are ultimately left hanging which is the case for her character in particular. Also in the cast is Janelle Monae and Gwendoline Christie who appear briefly in the real world and prominently in toy land. Christie’s character provides a cringe-worthy sore point as she puts on an infuriatingly bad Russian accent for both realities.
A coupe of more quick-fire thoughts:
- Alan Silvestri does it again, providing a great score to pair with the fun proceedings.
- A major, guns blazing final fight isn’t something you’d expect me to say but the one in the final 30 outstays its welcome.
Marwen is a somewhat beautiful, somewhat powerful and somewhat funny, comedy-drama. The issue is, it is somewhat all of these things and never reaches its full potential and half-baking a couple of side ideas. I personally enjoyed it more than the average moviegoer or critic did, it was hard not to with such a fun toy reality, great drama and a handful of standout performances. But, I’d be blind if I was to look past some of the more blatant flaws in the filmmaking and the way multiple characters are handled.