Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Film Review: Welcome to Marwen

Sexuality/Nudity Mature
Violence Mature
Vulgarity Mature
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Mature

I wanted to like this movie so much.

It hits a lot of points on my radar:
-Robert Zemeckis directing
-Steve Carell as the star
-a movie that blends fantasy and reality
-a story about action figures as a mode of art.

But this is a movie that is let down by a horrible script.

Welcome to Marwen is based on the true story of Mark Hoagancamp (Carell), an artist who was attacked outside a bar because of his love of walking in women's shoes.  He loses his memory and his ability to draw.  So he buys World War II action dolls and has built a fictional city in his backyard called "Marwen."  He takes photos of the the dolls as their builds them an elaborate story.  In this fictional world, Mark is "Cap'n Hoagie," who lives in Marwen along with women based on people in Mark's life like:

-Ann (Gwendoline Christie): Mark's tough, Russian, visiting nurse.
-GI Julie (Janelle Monae): his physical therapist who teaches him to use his pain
Carlala (Eliza Gonzalez): the cook at the bar where he works
-Suzette (Leslie Zemeckis): based on his favorite actress
-Roberta (Merritt Wever): she works at the hobby story Mark buys his supplies and she helps Mark put on a gallery show for his photos.
-Deja Thoris (Diane Kruger): she has no human counterpart outside of Marwen, but is an evil witch trying to destroy Hoagie.

Mark's life gets thrown into upheaval with two converging events.  The first is the sentencing of his attackers where he must give a statement to the court.  Because of his PTSD, Mark spends most of the movie avoiding this event.  The second is the moving in of a new neighbor Nicol (Leslie Mann) with whom Mark immediately becomes smitten and adds a doll version of her to his Marwen world.

The best thing I can say about this film is that Carell does his best with the material.  His anxiety and trauma jump off of the screen in a powerful way.  In addition, the animation of the world of Marwen is incredibly fun to watch.  Wever also brings a real grounded emotional stability to the entire story.  Zemeckis has lost none of his knack for technical film making.

But the problem with the movie is at its fundamentals: story and character.

Mark is not someone we really want to spend time with.  He is off-putting to the point of creepy.  You can find a rewarding story in characters who are initially unlikable, like Jack Nicholson's character in As Good As It Gets.  But Mark doesn't start horrible and then move slowly into likability.  Instead he starts at slightly sympathetic but only becomes less so as the film unfolds.  We see him watch pornography and become obsessed with the neighbor.  He blurs the lines of fantasy and reality in a way that would make him feel like an actual threat in real life, not a zany protagonist.

To make matters worse, the movie wants us to invest in Mark's romantic feelings for Nicol both inside of Marwen and in the real world.  But it is clear from early in the movie that Roberta is the one Mark should be with.  Roberta understands him, doesn't patronize him, challenges him, and she cares for him.  I could not help feel a strong sense of annoyance at the fact that Roberta was cut out of most of the movie.  All of the time spent on Nicol felt like an absolute waste.

Finally, the dialogue was horribly clunky.  At one point Hoagie looks at Deja and I cannot escape the feeling that this script was written, or at least revised, during the first stages of the #MeToo movement.  The women of Marwen are strong, but they have no depth.  Their dialogue reveals so little sophistication.  But the movie thinks it is making some strong social statement by their mere presence, but this makes them even more incomprehensible.  At one point Hoagie cries out "Women are the saviors of the world."  And no, context does not help this line.

Movies like this make me sad because they have all the ingredients of a wonderful film, but the chef screwed up the recipe.

image by Yasir72.multan

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