It is strange to see Steve Carell in a film as contrived and emotionally manipulative as Welcome to Marwen in the same year that he made Beautiful Boy. Both are based on true stories and deal with sincere pain, and somehow Welcome to Marwen still feels like it was thought up by a studio executive capitalizing on someone else’s suffering. No matter how much Carell has been able to make odd characters loveable onscreen in the past, Marwen’s Mark Hogancamp mostly just made me uncomfortable.
I suppose it would be more accurate to say Mark Hogancamp’s Marwen, as he is the creator of the art installation and fabricated Belgian town circa WWII. After suffering a brutal attack in a local bar by a group of bigots, Mark loses all of his memory and much of his physical abilities. No longer able to create art the way he once did, Mark finds comfort in photography, specifically of the miniature town that he has built on his property.
Mark lives in near solitude after his attack, though he has a support group in the women of his life, and each of these women are represented in his fictional town of
as dolls. This is somehow
simultaneously flattering and creepy, especially when he creates a new doll for
his new neighbor, Nicol (Leslie Mann), even before having met her. He also has
a tendency to undress the dolls during his play-acting. Most of the dolls are
based off of women that are employed to either help or communicate with Mark,
such as his Russian caretaker (Gwendolyn Christie) and his physical therapist
(Janelle Monae). Even though Roberta (Merritt Wever) primarily knows Mark as an
employee at the hobby shop where he buys the supplies and dolls for Marwen, she
is one of the few that makes an effort beyond her job. Marwen
The film doesn’t settle with just watching Mark play with the dolls in his yard, instead creating a CGI world where we can see his imagined drama unfold. Director Robert Zemeckis is no stranger to movies created in computers, having made a trio of “photo-realistic” animation in the 2000s (The Polar Express, Beowulf, and A Christmas Carol). Sadly, those three films feel as though they have more humanity in them than Marwen does, and that includes the live action portion. It is tonally off for nearly the entire run-time, and very few of the characters ever seem to gel, most noticeably the protagonist.
This disappointing and strange film was in and out of theaters in half the time of the typical studio release, so it is surprising that the film’s home entertainment releases come with any special features at all. While they aren’t groundbreaking, the four featurettes and 11-minutes of deleted scenes are serviceable enough. Predictably, there is a featurette about the digitally constructed doll world, as well as one about the Marwen set pieces. The remaining two are about Zemeckis and the cast of characters, though none of the four are over five minutes long. The Blu-ray also comes with a DVD and a digital copy of the film.
Entertainment Value: 6/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 4.5/10
Historical Significance: 4/10
Special Features: 4/10