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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Dan's Review: Awkward "Welcome to Marwen" misses on emotions

Dec 20, 2018 06:04PM ● By Dan Metcalf

Steve Carell in Welcome to Marwen - © 2018 Universal.

Welcome to Marwen (Universal)

Rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence, some disturbing images, brief suggestive content, thematic material, and language.

Starring Steve Carell, Leslie Mann, Merritt Wever, Janelle Monáe, Eiza González, Gwendoline Christie, Leslie Zemeckis, Neil Jackson, Matt O'Leary, Diane Kruger, Falk Hentschel, Stefanie von Pfetten, Siobhan Williams.

Written by Caroline Thompson and Robert Zemeckis. 

Directed by Robert Zemeckis. 



Trauma affects people in different ways. Some victims go to very dark places, while others seek counsel or medical treatment. There isn’t “one way” to deal with loss or violence, which is why Robert Zemeckis’ new film Welcome to Marwen is especially problematic.

Steve Carrell stars as Mark Hogencamp, a very real person who was nearly beaten to death by a group of hooligans after they found out he was a cross-dresser. His memories erased, Mark finds peace by building a 1/6 scale town outside his trailer home in upstate New York. The town, named “Marwen” (a mash-up of the name Mark and Wendy) is an imaginary Belgian village set during World War II that Mark has populated with intricately costumed (Barbie) dolls. The dolls are named after real women in Mark’s life, including Roberta (Merritt Weaver), the kind hobby shop clerk, Caralala (Eiza González), a waitress and co-worker, Julie (Janelle Monáe), an U.S. Army vet/amputee and physical therapist, Anna (Gwendoline Christie) a Russian caregiver, and Suzette (Leslie Zemeckis), Mark’s favorite (porn) actress. In his imaginary Marwen world (which he constantly photographs), the women are his protectors, always packing firearms and retaliating whenever the town’s nearby Nazis attack. Another doll is Deja Thoris (Diane Kruger) the witch of Marwen, not based on anyone in particular. Mark himself is the doll “Hoagie” a WWII fighter pilot shot down by Nazis. Mark’s imagined scenes are played out using computerized special effects that animate the real actors’ faces onto the dolls. Things are going just fine until Nicol (Leslie Mann) moves in across the street from Mark. Nicol befriends Mark, who begins to have romantic feelings for her while incorporating her “doll double” into the Marwen scenes. Mark’s demons and trauma play out in the scenes of Marwen as he struggles to come to terms with his loss, his friendships and facing the men who attacked him in court.

Welcome to Marwen is a film enigma. Steve Carell and Leslie Mann make a valiant effort to keep the drama alive in their “real-world” scenes, but the rest of the movie is entirely distracting with its campy treatment of Hogencamp’s Marwen narrative. The emotion feels forced as if Robert Zemeckis is dictating exactly how the audience is supposed to feel, rather than placing the world of Marwen at our feet and letting us figure it out. Even with Carell and Mann’s performances, the rest of the “real world” people in Mark’s life get very little screen time, making it even harder to connect with their “doll” doppelgangers. It doesn’t help that the incredible special effects overshadow the real struggle going on inside Mark/Hoagie’s head, let alone the constant scenes of “doll violence” that often plays out in a silly manner.   

I’m happy the real Mark Hogencamp has found some sort of peace through his dolls and the miniature town he constructed, but Welcome to Marwen feels like a big budget cheapening of his post-trauma coping mechanism, and a movie with a hollow/enigmatic meaning.  


Welcome to Marwen Trailer