“…might be the worst movie I’ve seen all year.”
The story of Mark Hogancamp, an artist who uses WWII-inspired miniature photography to cope with life after being brutally beaten outside of a bar, is not necessarily inspiring or touching. It’s fascinating sure but Mark’s story, originally featured in the 2010 documentary Marwencol, is more interesting than anything else. Mark, after losing his ability to draw, creates a 1/6 scale world that is his creative outlet. With characters that are inspired by real people in his life, Mark uses photography consisting of meticulously crafted and placed miniatures to convey story and emotion. Then Robert Zemeckis decided to come along and fuck everything up.
Welcome to Marwen, the Hollywood retelling of Mark’s story starring Steve Carell as Hogancamp himself, might be the worst movie I’ve seen all year. Like I said the story of Mark Hogancamp exists almost purely as a spectacle. A man overcoming odds and doing it in a way that is a little different. Somehow Zemeckis missed this mark and tried to make the story of Hogancamp one that is very embellished and almost storybook-esque. I know that’s kind of the point of movies, but it stuck out like a sore thumb.
When I first saw the trailer for Welcome to Marwen I didn’t know who the movie was for. I knew of the story of Mark Hogancamp, but the inclusion of CGI dolls and a lot of misplaced comedy plagued the first trailer and made me wonder who would actually go to see Welcome to Marwen. Well I’m happy to report that yesterday, Christmas Day, Welcome to Marwen played to an almost sold-out show in my local theatre.
The trailer for Welcome to Marwen should have been the only red flag I needed, but I went to see it anyway and surprise surprise all of the problems I had with the trailer existed in the movie. I seriously don’t understand what the goal was here. On one hand you have the story of Mark Hogancamp, a pretty tragic tale filled with struggles and at times insurmountable odds. The character of Mark would make for a great movie because there isn’t anything wrong with him as a person. He’s unique, and was punished for that by a group of individuals outside of a bar.
Welcome to Marwen hits on this a lot throughout its two hour runtime, but it hits on it a little too hard. Of course Mark suffers from PTSD and anxiety because of the incident, but the way it was presented in Welcome to Marwen was almost insulting. It’s like Zemeckis was not only holding our hand in an attempt to guide us through this story, but also throwing insults our way left and right about how we “wouldn’t get it”. The portrayal of mental health in Welcome to Marwen is so hammed up that you can’t help but roll your eyes at every single instance. Carrell was playing for the cheap seats, and honestly it ruined his performance.
On the other hand you have the meat of Welcome to Marwen. I say the ‘meat’ because it is the majority of the movie. Of course I’m talking about the weird CGI doll scenes. I honestly have no idea what the goal was with these scenes. They take what would have been an alright look at a tragic character and inject it with bizarre bouts of comedy and— I mean it’s just the tone. Welcome to Marwen didn’t know what kind of movie it wanted to be.
You could make the argument that these scenes placed you inside of Mark’s mind, but they didn’t. They acted as vehicles for shitty puns and a ridiculous story the likes of which could only be dreamed up by a child. These segments are then punctuated with metaphors that are obvious even before the film literally screams at you: “THIS IS A METAPHOR”. These scenes confuse the tone of what was already a movie that was struggling to find its sea legs. And these bizarre scenarios coupled with the eclectic, on-the-nose soundtrack make for a movie that is simultaneously trying too hard and not hard enough.
There isn’t much else I can say about Welcome to Marwen other than the fact that it didn’t even come close to doing the story of Mark Hogancamp justice. If you are at all interested in Mark, just watch the original documentary ‘Marwencol’. If you are at all interested in Robert Zemeckis, just watch ‘Back to the Future’. At least he knew what he was doing at that point in his career.
I give Welcome to Marwen an F