Review: WELCOME TO MARWEN

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 2.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

In 2002, artist Mark Hogancamp was brutally attacked outside a bar.  Even though Hogancamp physically recovered to a certain level, he was left brain damaged and unable to draw.  Mark was also left with severe mental wounds that troubled him for some time since the incident.  This new film by director Robert Zemeckis tells Mark Hogancamp’s story and how he coped with his disabilities and the psychological trauma caused by the attack.  Starring Steve Carell as Hogancamp, Welcome to Marwen has its heartbreaking and compelling moments, but gets way too caught up in the fantasy world of its protagonist to completely effectively tell his story.After going through physical therapy, Mark Hogancamp is able to maintain some functionality in his life.  He works a day job at a diner, but spends the rest of his time working on his art.  Because he is no longer able to draw, Mark uses dolls/action figures in a miniature town he has created and tells their stories through photographs..  Through this little town he has dubbed Marwen, his World War II heroes, inspired by people he knows, battle  Nazi soldiers.  Hogancamp uses his fantasy world to represent his life struggles and the attackers who forever changed his life.

Written by Caroline Thompson and Robert Zemeckis, Welcome to Marwen takes an inventive approach in portraying the imaginative and exciting fantasy world of Mark Hogancamp, but it is certainly an example of an imagination run wild.  The filmmakers have seemed to have gotten way too involved in the fantasy element of the protagonist that they lose some sight of the real person.  To top it off, Zemeckis includes a nod to an accomplishment in his career that is amusing at first, but then becomes self-indulgent.  I will say that the effects used to bring the fantasy world to life look great, but had Thompson and Zemeckis had focused more on the human factor they would’ve made a much more powerful film.

The cast members, most of whom perform in dual roles, deliver stellar work.  As both the real Mark Hogancamp and his action figure doppelganger “Hogie,” Steve Carell definitely shines.  As Mark, Carell brings a gentle, sweet, but haunted nature to the role.  He is truly lovably heartbreaking to behold.  At the same time, he has a great time and brings much energy and bravado to his action figure hero Hogie.  Hogie represents everything Mark Hogancamp wants to be–tough, courageous, and a lady charmer.  The movie also features a lovely turn by Leslie Mann who portrays Mark’s neighbor and friend Nicol with whom he becomes smitten.  The film also stars Eiza Gonzalez, Diane Kruger, Gwendoline Christie, Janelle Monae, Merritt Weaver, Neil Jackson, Matt O’Leary, and Conrad Coates.  All of these offer the film some very solid work.

Considering the great cast and the powerful and heartbreaking true story which inspired this film,  I find it rather disappointing that the filmmakers didn’t make a much better film.  I cannot highly recommend this movie for theatrical viewing.  It would make for a fine evening at home, but I would not encourage spending top dollar for this ticket.  There is a documentary about Hogancamp titled Marwencol which I have not seen, but hear that it is definitely worth watching.  It sounds as if that documentary does well what this feature narrative film struggles to do.

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