REVIEW: Go ahead and skip a trip to ‘Marwen’

AKA “Action Figure Women of the OSS.”

“Welcome to Marwen” follows the story of Mark Hogancamp (Steve Carell), a man who was brutally attacked one night while out having a drink. The attack not only resulted in physical damage, but mental wounds as well, with Hogancamp losing most of his memories.

As a way to cope with the strains of his injuries, as well as his post traumatic stress disorder, Hogancamp finds comfort in the art-form of constructing a series of miniatures and photographing them. However, with the legal matters still taking place, Hogancamp must will himself to go to court and confront his assailants. Meanwhile, he also meets a new, kind neighbor in Nicol (Leslie Mann).

In theory, that all doesn’t sound too bad. However, the execution of “Marwen” is an absolute mess. What could have been a charming film about a therapeutic method was turned into an absolute mess that comes across as creepy.

Directed by Robert Zemeckis, “Marwen” is inspired by a true story of a man who was in fact brutally beaten within an inch of his life, and a documentary was made about his experiences. I’m willing to bet the documentary was far superior. The story of Hogancamp in this production feels far too simplified, with few of the complexities of mental health ever truly explored.

One of the main issues is how much time is spent in this imaginary world of Marwen itself, the World War II era miniature village Hogancamp has created. Instead of brief interludes that serve as a different view on the story being told, these sequences seem to take up way too much screentime, and every time the setting is revisited, the awe factor of the special effects diminishes and the relationship to what’s taking place in real life feels more disconnected.

Film Title: Welcome to Marwen
Courtesy ImageMovers, Universal Pictures and Dreamworks.

Additionally, when looking at the factor of simplifying the situation, there’s a subplot featured here about medication. Yet again, Zemeckis sets this conflict in the imaginary Marwen, with an evil villain to be conquered. Meanwhile, there are no scenes in this movie of Hogancamp meeting with mental health treatment providers.

What really sinks “Marwen,” though, is its treatment of the female characters. I checked out the trailer for the documentary on this subject, and the real person did in fact have a village of miniatures with dolls based on real people, both men and women. Curiously, in this film, the only good dolls featured are women. Additionally, when looking at the female characters the dolls are based on, only a couple of them are given more than one scene.

This isn’t handled with much class, either, which is why I mentioned the creepy factor. There’s even a scene in the imagined setting of Marwen where one of the women doll characters has her shirt ripped off.

It’s really a shame, too, because the cast featured here was really strong. Carell has proven himself as one of the eras better performers, Mann is often a charming, charismatic factor on screen and other actors such as Janelle Monae and Gwendoline Christie are often good additions to an ensemble. However, their talents feel so undercut. Carell is especially giving it his all here, but most of his work is thwarted by how his character was written and how much schmaltz Zemeckis adds.

Walking out of “Welcome to Marwen” was definitely considered during the screening. The film as a whole is bad enough, but the fact that this was based on a real person whose story has been better told in a documentary makes the whole thing worse. The cast is wasted here, with the female performers sidelined to underdeveloped roles, while the movie piles on manipulative sentiment in the place of actual depth. 1 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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