UNIVERSAL PICTURES (2019)

Directors: Robert Zemeckis

Starring: Steve Carell, Leslie Mann, Diane Kruger, Merritt Wever, Janelle Monáe, Eiza González, Gwendoline Christie, Leslie Zemeckis, Siobhan Williams, Neil Jackson

From the man who brought you Beowulf, The Polar Express and some actual decent flicks you may have heard of.

 

In 2000, Mark Hogancamp was savagely beaten outside of a bar by greasy homophobes for the ‘crime’ of enjoying cross-dressing. With his memories erased due to the severity of his injuries, he instead created a fantasy world using dolls to help his recovery and took on the alter-ego Hogie – a tough, heroic soldier flanked by ‘sexy’ female dolls who fight the evil Nazis in a fictional Belgian town (Marwen) during World War II. If it sounds a bit weird, then you’d be forgiven for thinking that, because it is. Creepy weird.

After such a hideous event, it’s only normal for rehabilitation to occur in many guises, and the real-life Hogancamp has indeed taken the images he creates within his world and displays them for the world to see at various art expos – getting his life together and moving on simultaneously. Respect. A 2010 documentary delved into Hogancamp’s story further and it’s that which lends the inspiration for this. However, Robert Zemeckis’ Welcome to Marwen paints Hogancamp as a bit of a…well, oddbod. Obsessed with the idea of pretty women hanging off of him whilst claiming “women are the saviours of the world”. The aftermath of his accident is handled well enough but that’s really it. The animated scenes of the dolls are repetitive and the real-world happenings are either drab or lifeless. Those scenes where the dolls take centre stage aren’t effective enough and Zemeckis’ insistence on the hideous facial effects is a massive hindrance (the actors faces digitally forced onto the dolls and then smoothed out a la Beowulf is just awful). It just seems like a stage to create sexualised dolls for a strange pleasure and to involve his wife, Leslie.

 

Steve Carell is certainly as committed as ever, but he isn’t at his best here in an unconvincing performance. The females in the cast are afforded nothing in the way of depth, characterisation or interest, but, hey, they make sexy dolls eh Robert? Such a waste of a wonderful cast. Women are lauded as saviours and angels throughout, yet sexualised more so and the ‘antagonist’ is a spiteful, unknown…woman? Go figure, because I can’t. Leslie Mann had a thankless task as the new neighbour and lust interest, though she helped participate in a wince-inducing proposal scene, possibly the highlight of the movie. Narratively speaking, Welcome to Marwen is thin and fairly lacking and it gets stranger and seemingly less-focused the further on it goes until it hits its overblown, unaffecting big finale. Hogancamp has a massive showcase of his work in the movie, though it’s unclear how any of it would be organised given the man we see throughout. Tonally, it’s a mess and these issues only hamper the flow of the movie and push it squarely towards uninteresting.

 

Zemeckis deserves credit for the desire and creativity shown in adapting the Marwencol documentary into Welcome to Marwen. Whilst it’s pretty much a write-off across the board, the ambition should be applauded. After a decent run of movies, Welcome to Marwen is a big disappointment in the Zemeckis canon – probably best to stick with the original documentary of this story.

January 4th 2019

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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