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Film Review: Welcome to Marwen

Welcome to Marwen (2019)
Universal Pictures

Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Steve Carell, Falk Hentschel, Matt O’Leary, Nikolai Witschl, Patrick Roccas & Gwendoline Christie

Steve Carell stars in this quirky film, based on a true story, about an illustrator that loses himself in a fantasy world after a traumatic event leaves him with memory loss and stress disorders. Marwen is the fictional town that he creates in his back yard, that houses dolls in a WW11 backdrop. The film flits between the CGI doll world, and Carell’s tragic real life, and we slowly learn all the details of the event that devastates his life, and how he copes with it in the run up to the sentencing of his attackers, and the opening of a show based on photographs he has taken of the doll’s in their environment.

Directed by Robert Zemeckis, this is nothing but original. The premise of switching between the two realities, and the merging, overlapping and convergence of the two world’s is at first engrossing and endearing. The animated doll’s fighting the Nazi’s in Marwen is well done. Carell plays Mark Hogancamp, who in doll form is all American fighting machine Hogie.
His “doll” posse is made up of sexy gun wielding vixens, that protect the town from occupation, and all have allegiance to Hogie.

There are lots of fun scenes with the doll’s blowing away the German soldiers, and there’s a sub plot that explains why they keep coming back to “life” after the events. Essentially this is like Toy Story meets Sin City, but the problems begin in the second act, when plot wise, things start to slow down. I’m sure on paper this seemed like a sure thing, but for this reviewer, there just isn’t enough story for the (nearly) 2 hour run time. The plot follows all the beats you would expect, and there is no great reveal or revelation that may have lifted the final act a little higher. If you were to stop half way through and think about how things would finish, you would probably nail it.

Another very distracting issue comes with CGI and the real life stuff battling for our attention. Often when they cross over, it feels tonally wrong and I was more invested in the fantasy world with the dolls rather than the tragic story that was slowly unfolding. The introduction of new neighbour Nicol, leads Hogancamp to create a new doll character for Marwen, but the scenes when he approaches Nicol and seems to be blurring the lines between fantasy and reality, just come across as creepy. I’m not sure that was intended, but I found myself raising an eyebrow in certain scenes.

Box office wise, this had a rough time in the States, and seems to be the lowest opening ever for a Zemeckis movie. Perhaps the mix was just too weird for film goers, and people may have been confused about who exactly the film aimed at. It’s too slow for kids, and just too weird for everyone else. There’s also a lot of scenes celebrating female empowerment in the screenplay, but the dolls are all seductively dressed, and one in particular appears to have her shirt torn off a lot. By the last act, I was desperate for the film to be over, and trust me, that’s a sign I was pretty much done. The gimmick of the doll world wears off quick, and the predictable storyline and weird tone of certain scenes leaves you with a slightly unsatisfactory feeling.