Posted Dec 31 2018

Welcome To Marwen - This Movie Struggles With Its Rocks - And Its Shoes

Dir: Robert Zemeckis

Starring Steve Carell, Leslie Mann, Merritt Weaver, Diane Kruger, Gwendoline Christie, Eiza Gonzalez, Janelle Monae

Welcome To Marwen is the very definition of an oddity. And not an easy one to deal with.

It opens with a spectacular WWII air battle – staged by action figures/dolls/call them what you will – that displays all the visual flair and innovative tehnique we have come to expect from director Robert Zemeckis.

Then we slam back into the real world where Steve Carell’s Mark Hogancamp is staging these scenes in his elaborate backyard, itself a reconstruction of an imagined small Belgium town, under German occupation in the latter days of the War. Mark is, essentially, his doll avatar, a fighter pilot name of Captain Hogey, surrounded by a beautiful coterie of local girls – all armed to the teeth – and out to take down the Nazis. But them Nazis, thems hard to beat…

We cut between Mark’s imaginary world (which he photographs and will later exhibit) and Mark’s real world – and this is indeed a true story, with Hogencamp a real life artist, one who was beaten within an inch of life, something that left him unable to draw again (he was a successful artist) and with “all the memories kicked out” of his head – an album he has made poignantly says “I think I might have been married.” The women of his local town look after him – and he in turn re-creates them as heroes in his art.

One of the key elements here though – and noticeably something that is missing from the film’s trailers (as if they were worried? Or didn’t know how to sell it?) is both Hogey and Hogencamp’s proclivity for wearing woman’s high heels. It’s the reason his attack – in real life and in the film – is viewed as a hate crime. And it’s something that the film itself often seems uncomfortable with, or at best, unsure about how to handle.

As a result, the film never feels comfortable with its central character – Carell verges from being endearing to slightly creepy. And when his new neighbour – the always wonderful Leslie Mann – hands over her stilettos as a gift, it does seem a little out of the blue. As such it ends up a film full of bravura moments, but lacking a sense of what it really wants to say. Yet full of profoundly obvious metaphors – Hogancamp escapes into his fantasy world to escape reality, the fact that one of his attackers had a swastika tattoo means Hogey is always being attacked by Nazis, the fact that the Nazis can’t be killed - despite the nasty endings he envisages for his dolls – shows that, well, he’s not over it yet. 

And said metaphors never really move beyond that.(Just as Zemeckis' self referential nods to Back To The Future feel more smug than clever.) And yes, his redemption is also just a little bit trite. And – yes, a third sentence starting with an “and” – they show the whole bloody thing in the trailer (which is below – so don’t look down!) All of it – except the heels – which may well say something about the filmmakers’ belief in their film.


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