Welcome to Marwen: more like Welcome to the Dullhouse

 By Jonathan Shuping

December 26, 2018

From his humble beginnings as a correspondent on The Daily Show to his breakout role in The Office to his big-screen leading man status, Steve Carell appears to have been using the blueprint laid out by actors like Tom Hanks, Michael Keaton, Robin Williams, and Jamie Foxx to transition from comedic success to dramatic prestige. With Oscar bait like Foxcatcher, The Big Short, and Battle of the Sexes, it seems like Hollywood has been trying to pin a gold statue on Carell for a few years now. 2018’s offerings include Beautiful Boy, Vice and, perhaps most notably, Welcome to Marwen. Teaming Carell with Academy Award-winning director Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump) looked like a good play. Unfortunately the end result is anything but award worthy.

Steve Carell as Mark Hogancamp. Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Marwen is based on the true story of Mark Hogankamp, who is brutally attacked for boasting that he likes to wear women’s shoes in the vicinity of a few drunken hatemongers. The assault leaves him not only with memory loss (tragically, the only thing he can remember is getting beaten within an inch of his life) but PTSD as well. Hogamkamp deals with this horrific circumstance by creating a miniature WWII-era Belgian town in his yard and populating it with dolls who represent the people in his life. With himself as the heroic Captain Hogie, he acts out scenes with these dolls as a form of therapy.

It makes for a visually stunning display, with the technique that Zemeckis has been working to perfect for decades (see the progression from The Polar Express to Beowulf to A Christmas Carol) looking better than ever. The emotional connection, however, is simply not there. For one, the beginning of the movie spawns a multitude of questions that are either never answered or are just vaguely glossed over. Why WWII? Kinda sorta answered in a roundabout way. Why dolls? Indirectly referenced. Why high heels? Um, nope.

The script contains very little humor and that which is offered up isn’t good. Also, for a film that seems to want to be a timely heroine adventure, none of the female characters (other than Merrit Wever’s doll-store clerk) are very fleshed out at all. So when a crucial line like “Women are the saviors of the world!” is uttered, it doesn’t find its mark. It feels like an attempt to shoehorn in a #Feminist moment instead of a genuine crowd-pleaser.

Further, soon after playing a major role in Ready Player One, the Back to the Future time machine car makes its fair share of appearances once again, only this time it’s not even all that relevant to the story. It’s as if Zemeckis saw his buddy Spielberg’s film and thought, “Yeah that Dolorean is awesome. I’m gonna use it in my movie too!” 2018 may very well go down in history as the year that most overused 30-year-old pop culture icons.

Steve Carell as Mark Hogancamp. Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Like any movie, Welcome to Marwen needs all three major elements of filmmaking (writing, acting, directing) to be working together cohesively in order to reach its ultimate potential. Like the offense, defense, and special teams in a football game, one phase may not be able to produce a win on its own, but one being particularly inadequate can certainly result in a loss. Maybe we’ve been spoiled by the plethora of great recent films, but compared to many of the other movies currently at the multiplex, Marwen seems less like grown-up imagination and more like child’s play.

Star Rating: 2 out of 5

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