Welcome to Marwen (2018)

Robert Zemeckis directs Steve Carell, Leslie Mann and Diane Kruger in this fantasy drama based on a true story about a man who was attacked in a hate crime, and now lives in a closed off imaginary world of WWII art installations populated by Action Men and Barbie Dolls who represent his friends and foes.

What the fuck is it? Who wants to see it? Welcome to Marwen was only ever going to work if FX sequence sold the unlikely fantasy, and found a relatable emotional truth within the injustice. Zemeckis (possibly the only director who could make this material into something populist) fails this time leaving us an experience that is neither fish nor fowl. The sexualised action figure action set pieces are too strange for those craving sentiment. The real world fallout of Mark Hogancamp‘s trauma too soft sold to justify the strange flights of WWII comic book wonder nonsense. Chances are unless you are a brain damaged, cross dressing artist with a thing for busty dolls in stereotypical national dress you are going to struggle to find much to fill your plate at this all you can eat buffet of misjudgment. Not that it is a story that shouldn’t be told, it just needed to be handled better. Focus on the hate crime, the fallout and Hogancamp‘s unique but curious fetishes and you have a great drama. Or you could have a Who Framed Roger Rabbit meets Toy Story style romp about a quiet man who escapes into a toy based world of adventure and fill it with set pieces we care about. But the Zemeckis movie it most resembles is Forrest Gump. A difficult to understand man, almost an asexual blank slate, navigating a real world that is augmented by convincing effects sequences. However you feel about Gump, it chimed with the general public. They enjoyed seeing an unlikely protagonist have awkward romances and larger than life triumphs. The opposite is true here. The bolted-on romance subplot feels creepy, a disaster waiting to happen whether it is embraced or rejected, and thankfully nipped in the bud with some dignity. So we are left with a man with no memory, turning the circle of women who are kind to him, into scantily clad plaything who desire and fight to the death for him. With the emphasis on tragedy rather than fun. Hard not to put some of the blame at Steve Carell’s dour door. Put him in an out-and-out comedy and he flies yet he clearly wants to be a serious actor. The moment a project he is in clicks past Little Miss Sunshine on the drama-o-meter and he is a negative. He was naively cloying in The Big Short and Beautiful Boy looks like a crime against humanity in its narrow sighted whinyness. Here he just cannot get us to care about a man without a past, internal awareness or a outward personality. You do have to wonder if someone with the long established likeability of Hanks or the natural vacant subtlety of Ryan Gosling would improve matters. Probably not, but their casting would at least make more sense on the poster. The package just doesn’t work but it is uncommonly strange for big budget movie and well executed enough visually that no doubt a cult following beckons. Mark my words in a decade’s time this frustrating piece of cinema will have a small but vocal fan base. They are right to embrace the unusual. But this underdog is a loser for a reason. It just doesn’t click. 

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