Welcome to Marwen: Film Review

Welcome to Marwen is not doing very well critically, and although I understand where people are coming from, I also can’t deny that I really enjoyed it and was moved by it.

Steve Carell plays real-life photographer Mark Hogancamp, who was brutally attacked by a group of men in 2000 and left with little memory of his previous life. To cope with his trauma, he created a World War II-era Belgian village named Marwen, which is populated by dolls representing himself, his attackers and his friends, including neighbour Nicol (Leslie Mann), rehab coach Julie (Janelle Monae), co-worker Carlala (Eiza Gonzalez), nurse Anna (Gwendoline Christie) and friend Brenda (Merritt Wever). Together, the Marwen ladies and Mark’s doll alter ego Cap’n Hogie fight the Nazis.

This sounds bizarre but it works so much better onscreen. My description doesn’t really do it justice. In the real life story, Mark simply photographs these doll characters and exhibits the pictures, but in the movie, Robert Zemeckis brings these stories to life, so the film is a mixture of live-action storytelling, focussing on Mark’s recovery and relationships, and the fantastical CGI war-time action scenes featuring the cast via motion capture.

The doll scenes are deliberately hammy and cheesy so these are funny and the CGI is impressive. These are counter balanced by the moving human side of the story in which we learn about the real Mark and his relationships with the real-life versions of his doll characters. It’s just a shame that the fantastical doll scenes have too much screen time, preventing us from really getting to know who Mark is with any real depth and the supporting characters aren’t fleshed out well at all.

Carell does a fantastic job, which is no surprise. He is killing it lately, thanks to this and Beautiful Boy. Mark’s relationship with Nicol was the beating heart of the story and some of their scenes together were so touching. The rest of the supporting cast, with the exception of Wever as the caring friend, weren’t in the live-action scenes much at all and were basically stereotypes, much like their doll characters. Monae and Christie appear as themselves for one scene each, Gonzalez has a couple more and Diane Kruger only appears as her evil doll character Deja Thoris.

I went into Welcome to Marwen thinking I would be bawling my eyes out at this incredible and almost unbelievable true story, but it was only mildly moving. This is because it tried to keep matters light and digestible, rather than making this heavy, serious movie, which I get, but this ends up being enjoyable yet shallow.

Welcome to Marwen might seem too weird for some but I love stuff that is this original. It is exciting to see something you’ve never seen before, especially when it’s based on a true story! It does have its issues, so I can see where the majority of people are coming from, but I enjoyed it and would say it’s worth a shot.

In cinemas now 

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