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Review: Welcome to Marwen (2018)

In a shocking turn of events, dolls continue to be creepy.

I hardly know where to begin with this review. My parents and I went to see Welcome to Marwen (2018) and wow, was it…an experience. A polarizing experience. This may be the most polarizing movie I’ve seen this year. Which is weird because this has been an exceptional year for biopics. Especially biopics starring Steve Carell. By the way, you can check out my review for Carell’s movie Beautiful Boy (2018), here. For his performance in Beautiful Boy, Carell deserves to be nominated for dozens of awards. For his performance in Welcome to Marwen…well, they don’t really give out awards for being the only good part of a cuckoo-banana-pants movie, do they?

Screen Shot 2018-12-30 at 1.46.27 PM
Credit: / Universal Pictures

Based on true events, Welcome to Marwen tells the story of artist Mark Hogancamp who struggles with PTSD and deals with the trauma by escaping into a fictional village he created named Marwen. There, he poses dolls in the likeness of he and his friends, taking their pictures while living out his wildest fantasies and darkest insecurities.

Let’s start with the dolls. The movie splits its time between the live-action cast, and sequences where the dolls come to life in Mark’s mind, with the cast portraying their corresponding dolls through motion-capture. Any scene featuring the dolls was a toss-up between being charming and fantastical, and a nightmarish mess. Though the use of the dolls is incredibly imaginative, creative, and interesting to look at, at times I felt like I was on acid. Harsh? Maybe, but how else would you describe Diane Kruger as a Belgian doll-witch with teal hair who randomly appears onscreen in horrifying jump scares? Granted, her over the top character serves as an underlying metaphor that I wont spoil, but wow, is it wacky. You would think that with a premise like, “dolls acting out fantasy sequences,” the movie would embrace the wackiness, but Welcome to Marwen never fully commits. The movie constantly seems at war with itself, torn between telling the heartbreakingly true tale of what happened to Hogancamp, and the unique way he learned to cope with his pain. The end result is a tonally confused dramedy that lacks consistency. In fact, the only consistency is how inconsistent it is. Repeatedly you’ll find yourself asking, “am I supposed to be crying right now? Should I be laughing at that line of dialogue? I don’t know how I should be feeling Robert Zemeckis!”

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Credit: / Universal Pictures

I’m beginning to suspect that director Robert Zemeckis doesn’t know how to make a biopic work. Remember The Walk (2015)? That movie where Joseph Gordon-Levitt played the man who walked the tightrope between the Twin Towers? Yeah, me neither. No, honestly, the visuals in that movie were stunning but the story of the movie’s real-life protagonist, Philippe Petit, got lost in the technical marvel. There was no emotional connection to Petit. The same is true for Welcome to Marwen’s Hogancamp. Zemeckis is a genius when it comes to original material such as Back to the Future (1985), and Cast Away (2000), but biopics? Evidently still an uphill battle for the acclaimed director.

The casting of Steve Carell as Hogancamp though, was one of the few things that the movie absolutely nailed. Carell once again proves his merit as a dramatic actor as he seamlessly steps into the shoes of the troubled artist. What I’ve noticed about Carell when he plays a real-life figure, is that while he’s able to transform into the character, he always manages to inject his signature charm and wit into the role. I felt like I really knew Hogancamp after watching Carell. He came alive and once again, convinced me that I was watching the real Hogancamp rather than an actor. With three biopics this year, in all of which his performance earned rave reviews, I sincerely hope this is the year Carell gets his second chance at scoring Oscar gold. My money’s on Beautiful Boy because once again, Welcome to Marwen…ouch.

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Credit: / Universal Pictures

Welcome to Marwen boasts an impressive supporting cast, including Leslie Mann, Janelle Monae, and Merritt Wever. Each of these fabulous ladies are a key player in Hogancamp’s life, and each one helps set him on his path to healing. Sidenote, am I the only one who thinks Leslie Mann hasn’t aged since Knocked Up (2007)? She looks gorgeous. Second sidenote, Janelle Monae is a goddess whom I adore, and Merritt Wever’s comedic timing is as on point as ever. The movie is filled with strong, intelligent, compassionate, and compelling female characters, and yet, inexplicably gives them nothing to do. For a movie that preaches about how incredible these women are, they’re not very independent from Mark. Maybe I should be more open-minded considering the story is about Mark and told from his point of view, but none of the women get scenes on their own where their characters are developed. Mann and Wever are the only ones who share a single, brief conversation in the real world, and it’s about Mark. Again, maybe I’m reading too much into this, but I felt like the movie could have spent more time developing and shedding light on these fantastic women, and less on creepy doll jump scares. Yes, I’m still not over it.

screen shot 2019-01-03 at 10.56.17 pm
Credit: / Universal Pictures

As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, Welcome to Marwen is a polarizing movie. I would recommend watching it for Carell’s great performance and the unique visuals, but certainly don’t rush to the theatre. If you have your heart set on seeing it, do so at home where you can quickly pop in a Disney movie to lighten the mood after you’ve watched it. Trust me, you’re going to need something to pull yourself out of the grim, sad, and confused hole this movie leaves you in.

Have you seen Welcome to Marwen ? Do dolls creep you out too?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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