Welcome to Marwen


(spoiler free)

Portrayed here by Steve Carell, artist and photographer Mark Hogancamp is the subject of new Robert Zemeckis drama ‘Welcome to Marwen’. The film follows Mark’s recovery after he was brutally beaten to within an inch of his life as the result of an altercation at a local bar. A documentary entitled ‘Marwencol’ already exists which explores Mark’s life and work and it’s that film which is the main inspiration for this new drama.

Mark’s story is a tragic one but his road to recovery is utterly fascinating and no doubt why he’s attracted this media attention. As a coping method for his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), caused by his attack, Mark creates and photographs Marwen, a model Belgian town, during World War II. Zemeckis and fellow screenwriter Caroline Thompson tell not only Mark’s story but also the story of the dolls who inhabit Marwen. In doing so they have created a complex concept to transition from page to screen. Zemeckis has trouble at first making this concept work. It’s very ambitious and proves problematic as it can be confusing and at times hard to fully comprehend. The lack of simplicity with this concept leads to frustration and risks viewers becoming altogether disinterested. However, thankfully as the film progresses things do become more clear and actually the more you reflect upon it the cleverer it becomes. This somewhat complicated concept does result in a muddled tone too though as the attempts at comedy don’t always mix well with the more prominent emotionally driven plot threads.

However, despite these issues there are some really fantastic individual moments, most of which take place in Marwen. The film starts here and when the drama or action is happening in this model town the film changes from live action to animation. The animation is really eye-catching as it uses the likeness of the cast performing in the live action section of the film, creating a nice parallel between the two narratives. For the most part the editing to transition between the two is very good and as a result many of the film’s best sequences occur here. The nature of this dual narrative also means that the cast have two performances to deliver. Carell is fantastic as both Mark and Hogie, his Marwen character, and the difference in these two characters showcase his skill as a performer very well. The remaining cast is made up predominately of actresses who give a really entertaining and strong ensemble performance. Leslie Mann has the most to do as Mark’s new neighbour Nicol. She’s an absolute delight in the role and has a lovely chemistry with Carell. The same can be said for the other performers too, each bringing a wonderful individuality to the group.

So although ‘Welcome to Marwen’ triumphs with its performances and animation, the complicated concept isn’t quite executed strongly enough to impress. There’s no denying that it has its heart in the right place and there is a nice sentiment to it all but the troubled tone and poor pacing that plague the movies beginning hold it back from joining the ranks of Zemeckis’ prestigious filmography. It’s a story you’ll be richer for knowing, and with some reflection the film may well improve its impact on you but it doesn’t quite deliver the big screen treatment that this story really deserves.

Written by Hamish Calvert

Rating – 6/10

Question: What is your favourite Robert Zemeckis film?
(Leave your answers in the comments section below!)

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