Welcome to Marwen

 

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Robert Zemeckis re-imagines a 2010 documentary and infuses it with miraculous special effects and sentimentality.

   
Welcome to Marwen 

Welcome to the dollhouse: Siobhan Williams and Steve Carell, sort of

  

While based on the true story of the artist and photographer Mark Hogancamp, Welcome to Marwen is just as much about its director Robert Zemeckis. The opening legend, Based on a True Story, immediately sets alarm bells ringing. Perhaps more honestly, the film is inspired by Jeff Malmberg's Marwencol, which picked up a slew of prizes for best documentary of 2010. Here, Steve Carell plays Hogancamp, first seen at the controls of his P-40 plane before it’s shot down over Belgium. And then things get really weird. It transpires that Carell is a walking, talking action figure, a WWII American pilot in high heels. The stilettos particularly amuse a group of Nazis but, before they can kill him, they are shot down by a quintet of glamorous Barbie dolls. I warned you.

 

All this, of course, is happening inside Hogancamp’s head, who is suffering from a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder caused, not by the war, but from an attack by a gang of homophobic thugs. After the incident, which left Hogancamp in a coma and in hospital for forty days, he lost virtually all trace of his memory and retreated inside an imaginary world of Nazis and gun-toting babes. All these fanciful incidents take place in the fictitious Belgian town of Marwen, which he has replicated in scale model form in his Albany garden. Then, taking close-up photographs of various re-enactments of his imagination, he became a minor celebrity. And, in the bizarrest of ways, he had helped to fashion his own therapy.

 

So back to Robert Zemeckis, who directed the film from his own screenplay, co-written with Caroline Thompson. We have to remember that Zemeckis also directed Forrest Gump, The Polar Express, Flight and the Back to the Future trilogy, and thus Welcome to Marwen deals with mental illness, motion capture animation, a plane crash and even a time machine. Zemeckis is certainly in his territory here, but the film’s incongruous mix of fantasy, state-of-the-art CGI and trauma, packaged with a glutinous score by Alan Silvestri, is a mawkish alloy of the twee and the terrifying. Another troubling aspect of the film is its objectification of women. In some scenes, one Barbie doll’s shirt has been ripped open, revealing (in Hogancamp’s terminology) a fine set of “torpedoes.” Our protagonist, played with deadpan restraint by Carell, is given little nuance and we are left to guess at the life he lead before his attack. His world is now governed by a sexualised matriarchy in which the crumpet he has ‘created’ is modelled on the women he interacts with in his daily life.

 

So, if you can imagine Team America: World Police – Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s marionette-populated satire – with lashings of sentimentality, then you might have a rough idea of the feel of this well-meaning, but wildly misconceived drama. Can’t wait to see the documentary.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Steve Carell, Leslie Mann, Diane Kruger, Merritt Wever, Janelle Monáe, Eiza González, Gwendoline Christie, Leslie Zemeckis, Neil Jackson, Falk Hentschel, Matt O'Leary, Siobhan Williams.

 

Dir Robert Zemeckis, Pro Jack Rapke, Steve Starkey and Robert Zemeckis, Screenplay Caroline Thompson and Robert Zemeckis, Ph C. Kim Miles, Pro Des Stefan Dechant, Ed Jeremiah O'Driscoll, Music Alan Silvestri, Costumes Joanna Johnston.

 

Universal Pictures/DreamWorks Pictures/ImageMovers/Perfect World Pictures-Universal Pictures.

115 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 1 January 2019. Cert. 12A.