WELCOME TO MARWEN is the latest film from director Robert Zemeckis. The film was inspired by Jeff Malmberg’s documentary titled Marwencol, which focused on the life and artist Mark Hogancamp. The film stars Steve Carell (Battle of the Sexes), Leslie Mann (Blockers), Diane Kruger (In the Fade), Merritt Wever (Godless), Janelle Monáe (Moonlight), Eiza González (Baby Driver), Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones), Leslie Zemeckis (Welcome to Marwen), and Neil Jackson (Nocturnal Animals).
Prior to this film, I went in with very little knowledge of the film except for the premise shared with me prior. WELCOME TO MARWEN focuses on Mark Hogancamp, played by an ever wonderful Steve Carell, who is dealing with severe PTSD following a vicious beating delivered by five men outside of a bar when he admits to being a crossdresser. This hate attack left severe brain damage, rendering Mark’s memory prior to the event completely blank. The attack also took away his ability to write or draw so, in order to process his trauma and also maintain his artistic vision, he starts creating the town of Marwen. Throughout the course of the film, Mark has to battle his demons when he’s asked to testify against the five men who attacked him and the audience follows him as he tries to reconcile with what happened to him and move forward into the future.
It is a no brainer that Steve Carell takes center stage in WELCOME TO MARWEN, even when taking on the doll persona of Hoagie. A significant part of that is due to the primary focus being on telling Mark Hogancamp’s story, with those who have helped him along the way written into taking a backseat as we focus on his reconciliation with his trauma. However, a huge part had to do with Carell’s handling of the material. While injecting his natural humor, he found a way to add some light into certain scenes. However, when called to really embrace the darkness of the material, he went all in with no restraint. His humanizing performance allowed the audience to empathize with Mark as he goes about his journey.
While many will argue that WELCOME TO MARWEN is not a horror movie, I would say that this is a film that tackles the aftermath of what happens when human beings experience horror inflicted upon them. In the case of Mark, not only did he nearly die after the beating, but he is left without the memories he had prior to the beating. His first memories that he knows of are of when he was beaten up for crossdressing, which in itself is traumatizing. Throughout the course of the film, the audience observes how tiny things can send him spiraling, leading him to moments where he contemplates suicide rather than face what happened to him. We see him try to create a semblance of a normal life that has never really gone back to the way things were. Although this film is not a horror movie, it is innately fixed in that realm.
Now, I couldn’t write review about this movie without commenting on how the animated dolls were utilized in WELCOME TO MARWEN. I’m honestly not certain that the vision of the animated doll sequences could have been executed without the technology getting to this point. The transitions between the animated doll sequences back to the “real world” were seamless. And, while I was initially concerned that the scenes with the dolls would detract away from the movie, they served as an excellent tool for the audience to see how things were developing in Mark’s mind.
The only thing that I wish could have been better was the writing in WELCOME TO MARWEN. At times throughout the course of the film, it felt like we were being told what had happened rather than shown. In addition, sometimes we were both told and shown which made me wonder if the director, who also co-wrote the script with Caroline Thompson, had trust in his audience to be able to follow along. Another note I had was the decision to write the females in Mark’s life to serve as love interests or emotionally supportive friends. It didn’t seem like they were fully fleshed out, despite the stellar performances all of the actresses invested into the characters they were given. They definitely came across as accessories in Mark’s life outside of the inspiration he put into his eerily similar dolls. Whether this was the intention of the director and his co-writer, I am not certain. But it definitely stood out to me. On a high note, I did greatly appreciate the humor interwoven into the script to keep things from getting too dark.
Overall, I thought WELCOME TO MARWEN was a very good film marked with enough humor to keep the audience from succumbing to the subject matter tackled in the film. Reconciling with one’s own trauma is a difficult subject without really diving deep into the dark side of the pool. The performances from the cast, especially Steve Carell, all serve to keep the audience engaged and truly feel for Mark as he undergoes his journey. And, if anything else, just watch it for the superb animated doll scenes because they are truly something. WELCOME TO MARWEN will arrive in theaters on December 21, 2018.