Welcome to Marwen tries so hard to be endlessly creative with its animated narrative it becomes uneven when it forgets to put the same type of effort into the real-life storyline as well. Aims to be a crowd-pleaser yet is anything but. Middling.
Welcome to Marwen is based on the true story of Mark Hogencamp (Steve Carrell), a man who was a victim of a hate crime after he told five men he liked to wear women’s high heels; the group beat him into a coma because they accused him of being a cross-dresser. After spending over a month in the hospital (and a little under two weeks in a coma), he was discharged after being diagnosed with brain damage. The memories of his personal life were gone, taken from him, leaving him lonely and not knowing who he is as a person. If anyone ever had an excuse not to get out of bed in the morning, it’s him.
Obsessed with pornography, drawing pictures of naked women, the women who helped him individually get over his pain (Merritt Wever, Janelle Monae, Eliza Gonzalez, Gwendoline Christie), and personal torment (it has been noted that Hogencamp did not have adequate health insurance to afford therapy), he then creates a miniature town in his backyard called Marwen, building a World War II town populated by the above-mentioned women, who are constantly under attack from Nazi’s (who represent the men who were arrested and awaiting trial for beating him).
Mark creates a doll that represents himself named Hogie, a captain who is constantly killing off enemy soldiers, who are protected by the women of Marwen, who at the same time will not get close to him because if they do, they will be killed by a Belgian Witch named Deja Thoris (voiced by Diane Kruger). Mark then finds a new muse named Nicol, played by Leslie Man, who moves in across the street and works into his Marwen escapism.
Marwen was written and directed by the technologically obsessed Robert Zemeckis, who brings Hogencamp’s world to life in a way that is uneven with its real-life subject. There is nothing wrong with how the film presents the animated portions that show the audience how Hogie immerses himself to escape then shields himself from the hate crime he was on the receiving end of. The film has an endless palate of creativity for Zemeckis to play with, and he is responsible for the special effects in films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Back to the Future series, and his classic Forrest Gump.
The animated sequences are masterfully done, fun, and imaginative; yet, if the same amount of time and effort was put into the script’s real-life/human narrative, it could have elevated the film into something crowd-pleasing. Instead, Marwen becomes uneven, drags down the entire film into middling status, and doesn’t cohesively weave itself into each narrative to show a coherent healing process to tie it all together.
Robert Zemeckis has successfully implemented animation, special effects, and modern technology into his films to enhance the viewer’s experience with his work. He may have had an indirect effect and may be responsible for studios creating so many technologies-obsessed films over a well-written script, with the past two decades having been littered with these types of failed attempts. Welcome to Marwen seems to be an exercise in the technology used to create its animated narrative while sacrificing the well-written real-life storyline. The result is overly sentimental, which is used to cover up a hollow script, creating a false world that is as artificial as the town of Marwen Mark Hogancamp created.
Pay special attention to the end of the film, with a sly nod to some famous scenes from some of Zemeckis’ most famous works. It’s the most enjoyable part of the film, but when the best part is a rehash or homage to other films, that’s an issue.