Welcome to Marwen
With Welcome to Marwen, Robert Zemeckis continues his strange fascination with making dramatizations of stories from beloved documentaries.
Though his 3-D wizardry in The Walk couldn’t compete with the straightforward beauty of Man on Wire, an imaginative, effects-centric take on the people and concepts portrayed in the narratively rich yet technically rickety Marwencol give the new profile of Mark Hogancamp (Steve Carell), an upstate New York illustrator and former alcoholic who was nearly beaten to death by a group of young men, a decisive edge.
To cope with the lingering post-recovery anguish and trauma, Mark constructs the fictional WWII Belgian town of Marwen beside his single-wide trailer and populates it with dolls who represent the helpful women in his real life.
Appropriately, they help his figurine counterpart, stranded U.S. soldier Cap’n Hogie, confront invading, resurrection-friendly Nazis through badass, ultra-violent means — a choice that initially seems in poor taste in the current gun-crazy climate, but feels increasingly appropriate as it becomes clear that violence is what Mark’s troubles are rooted in and is therefore understandably how he processes his resulting troubles.
Written by Zemeckis and longtime Tim Burton collaborator Caroline Thompson (Edward Scissorhands; The Nightmare Before Christmas), the narrative film poetically expresses these demons and how Mark’s emotions manifest themselves in Marwen, often transitioning between the two worlds as if they were one (as they tragically are for Mark).
Though there’s a good deal of clunky dialogue and dramatically-dead scenes, namely as Mark and his new neighbor Nicol (Leslie Mann, still not ready for a part this demanding) get to know each other, the technological leap forward as represented by Marwen’s plastic dolls coming to life while retaining their artificial gleam is nearly enough to compensate for the script’s occasional guffaws.
The digital wonder also helps gloss over the matter of Marwen’s real-life inspirations — played by the likes of Janelle Monáe, Merritt Wever, and Gwendolyn Christie — being barely developed beyond single traits, but when visual gains are made to the degree they are here, and play so well with Mark’s complicated mind, it’s tough to complain.
Grade: B. Rated PG-13. Now playing at Biltmore Grande and Carolina Cinemark
(Photo: Universal Pictures)