‘Welcome to Marwen’ is a major disappointment
Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers for Welcome to Marwen.
As a total sucker for any Steve Carrell movie and any heartwarming film based on a true story, I had long been looking forward to the release of Welcome to Marwen. It tells the story of Mark Hogancamp, a victim of a hate crime who was ganged up on and beaten outside of a bar, seeking understanding through artistic photography of his doll town, Marwen. Having seen the movie, I can now say that this is quite possibly the most disappointing film I have seen in my life. Although it does a few things right, particularly in the areas of acting and animation, these positives could not make up for the poorly written script, repetitive plotline and frankly disgusting implications of Mark’s world. This film does the impossible in making a trailer that is about a thousand times better than the actual movie. I honestly wish I had let the story lie after seeing the trailer rather than putting myself through the absolutely horrible experience this uncomfortable film provides.
It’s not all bad (but it mostly is)
Before dumping a heap of well-deserved criticism on this film, I think it only fair that I acknowledge what it did well. One strong point of this film was the animation. Scenes that took place in the doll world were filmed and animated using motion-capture technology, which made me worried that the dolls would look and move too much like humans. However, they moved with the same stiffness and bendable joints as real toys would, yet the faces of the dolls matched the actors and showed appropriate emotion remarkably well. They also had a suitable sheen to them that mirrored the plasticky look of an action figure. When it came to animation, no detail was overlooked. If only the filmmakers had done the same with their screenwriting.
The acting was another strong point for this film. I was excited for Steve Carell to take on another serious role after seeing his strong performances in films like Little Miss Sunshine and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, and I have to say, he did a fantastic job despite the incredibly lacking script he had to work with. Additional standouts included Merritt Wever as Roberta and Leslie Mann as Nicol.
And I have to say, the concept for this film is very strong. The idea of Marwen as a metaphor for Mark’s life with all the people and influences in it was what really drew me, along with many others, into wanting to see this movie. Unfortunately, instead of letting this powerful concept speak for itself, the filmmakers ruined what could have been an impactful film by using the metaphor of Marwen redundantly and making it entirely too explicit.
Awkward script and unanswered questions
The script to Welcome to Marwen is incredibly awkward and repetitive. The dialogue was stilted and realistic and the scenes became incredibly repetitive and predictable after just a few minutes of watching. The filmmakers just switched back and forth between a cringeworthy “romantic” scene between Mark and Wendy in real life and a predictable skirmish with the Nazis in the doll world where Mark is unsurprisingly saved by the women of Marwen for over an hour of this too-long film. These scenes did nothing for plot and next to nothing for character development. It just felt like the filmmakers were killing time that could have been used to better develop Mark’s story.
Mark’s PTSD was highly underdeveloped in this film. It was obvious that he had it based on flashbacks and the medicine he was taking, but the actual symptoms were barely seen at all. There were a bunch of signs and post-its hanging around Mark’s house, reminding him to do simple tasks like turn off lights, turn the heat down or take his medicine, but the viewer never saw him actually struggle to remember anything. The symptoms they showed were basically him confusing Marwen and reality and him not wanting to go to court or his art show because he was ashamed. However, these were both very surface level symptoms and there was definitely more going on that the film did not touch on at all. For instance, it wasn’t until about halfway through the film, long after I had stopped caring, that it was revealed that Mark had memory loss from the night he was attacked. Seeing that this was crucial information about the main character, it made no sense whatsoever to just save it and throw it into a seemingly random and unimportant scene later on. This made the whole first half of the movie a lot more confusing and frustrating than it needed to be.
On top of that, I left the theater with many questions, most notably “What did I just watch?” But along with that, there were plot points that made no sense whatsoever and questions that were crucial to the actual plot (which the filmmakers seemed to forget about for a good portion of the movie) that went unanswered. For instance, not even in the epilogue did the viewer get to find out what sentence the men who beat him got, which was literally supposed to be the resolution of the whole story.
As far as plot points, some of them made absolutely no sense at all. The whole “time machine” debacle towards the end made me physically want to scream. Why did the witch need a time machine? Why did Mark build her one? Why did they use the time machine scene to awkwardly explicitly state a metaphor that was already too explicit? And so on and so forth. And that’s all just in one scene; I could go on, believe me.
Also, the courtroom scene that was supposed to be the climax of the entire film was just a two-minute monologue from Carrell. And it was a TERRIBLE monologue. Not by any fault of Carrell’s; he did the best he could with what he was given. It was just one of the most awkwardly written, uncomfortable speeches I have ever heard in a film. And it was entirely skimmed over despite it supposedly being the moment that Mark really comes to accept himself and accept what happened, which felt like very little payoff for everything the viewer had to sit through.
Are we supposed to like Mark?
Seriously. Are we supposed to? Because I sure didn’t. He came across as incredibly creepy and just generally unlikable. Throughout the film, his unhealthy obsession with his new neighbor Nicol came across more as creepy than charmingly awkward or sweet. He also seemed to sexualize and control the dolls based on the clothes he put them in and how he basically lived out his fantasies that could not come true through them, like marrying Nicol, being sought after by many women, and even being friends with his favorite adult film star. Particularly in the current climate for women, this came across as creepy to the point where I felt scared and uncomfortable watching it. This is the opposite of what I should have felt watching this. The film explicitly stated that the women of Marwen are supposed to be strong women and saviors. This film made me feel less powerful just watching it. This film is regressive rather than progressive, and the portrayal of Mark as literally materializing women and stalking his neighbor is a huge part of that.
However, Mark was not the only character problem in this film. There was also a huge disbalance in how much some of the women were portrayed. The women of Marwen are supposed to be the most important people in Mark’s life, yet most of them were only given one live-action scene in the whole film. These live-action scenes for two of the six women lasted less than a minute, and only two of them, Nicol and Roberta, were consistently featured and relevant throughout the film. Additionally, the antagonist of Deja Thoris, the Belgian witch, was a very explicit metaphor that just got more and more obvious as the film went on. Not only was getting spoonfed a metaphor that could’ve been way more subtle annoying, but the character herself was annoying and unthreatening to the point of being laughable. Overall, none of the characters were particularly likeable or memorable, which gave the audience little to no investment in the film.
Featured Image: IMDb
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