‘Welcome to Marwen’ relies too heavily on symbolism
“Welcome to Marwen” is a high-profile movie starring Steve Carell and directed by Robert Zemeckis (“Back to the Future,” “Forrest Gump”). It’s based on the true story of artist Mark Hogancamp, who was beaten nearly to death and struggled toward recovery by creating a scale-model town in his back yard peopled with GI Joe-like dolls who helped process his trauma by reenacting it in the form of a World War II action tale.
Sun-Gazette correspondents Quinn Deitrick and Joe Smith reviewed the film together — though neither of us quite knew what to make of it.
JOE: I think we can start by agreeing that “Marwen” does not deserve its measly 25 percent rating at Rotten Tomatoes. It’s is not a bad film — just unwieldy. Zemeckis and co-writer Caroline Thompson have trouble melding its disparate elements: fantasy, comedy, combat, rehab, romance, art, symbolism and an armada of in-your-face themes.
QUINN: I completely agree, Mr. Smith. There were plenty of moments when the hodgepodge of themes was so overwhelming that it derailed the story. However, I found that fusion of live-action and the lively animated world was done so seamlessly. The movie even flaunts the transitions several times, with one impressive shot that made it hard to discern which was which. I would expect nothing less with from a pioneer of animation like Zemeckis.
JOE: With a resume including “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and “Polar Express,” Zemeckis was the man for this job. What I loved is how the visual effects are allowed to look artificial because the world Hogancamp creates is — well, artificial. Sadly, some of the writing borders on artificial as well; the film wears its heart on its sleeve, and its symbolic use of the miniature world doesn’t have a trace of nuance or subtlety. I’m guessing some critics found this annoying, but it didn’t bother me much.
QUINN: It wasn’t too distracting to me either, although the emphasis on the symbols could easily be seen as annoying. What cannot be overlooked is the sense of incompleteness. A story arc that involved an ex-boyfriend felt completely useless with no resolution provided. In fact, the resolution to the whole movie felt abrupt, as if there was something missing. I’m betting the production company didn’t want to overstay their welcome, which is surprising, as I enjoyed the film.
JOE: Me too! The characters in Hogancamp’s fantasy-world have counterparts in his real life — mostly the women aiding his recovery. These scale-model stories-within-a-story are just plain fun — especially when the feisty ladies blast machine guns and hurl Molotov cocktails at swastika-wearing baddies (they mirror the neo-Nazis who assaulted Hogancamp). The only part of this conglomeration that doesn’t quite work is Hogancamp’s fondness for wearing women’s high heels (which is the reason he gotten beaten up). In the World War II storyline, this clashes badly with the time period, and sometimes the movie comes close to parody. I notice they didn’t include any of his footwear in the trailers!
QUINN: A classic tale of false advertising. While “Marwen” was a competent film with high-level execution, its emphasis on messages was simply too excessive. After viewing a trailer that showed promise for an Oscar-contender, audience members, including Mr. Smith and myself, bought into this only to have great expectations disappointed. We were sold. Now we somewhat have a case of buyer’s remorse.
JOE: It’s a mistake to cram too much into a film; but on the other hand, it’s better than putting in too little.