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.

Image from IMDb

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.

Image from IMDb

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. 

Image from IMDb

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?

Image from IMDb

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.

Images: IMDb

Featured Image: IMDb

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