What else can really be said about filmmaker Robert Zemeckis at this point? This is the director that brought us such timeless classics as the 1994 Best Picture winner Forrest Gump, the Back to the Future series, and the ground-breaking Who Framed Roger Rabbit. He’s clearly a seminal talent in the industry, and to say that his earlier films remain influential to this day is simply an understatement. His work in the last decade, however, has so far failed to capture our collective imaginations in the same way, so is Welcome to Marwen a return to form?
In the early 2000s, a man named Mark Hogancamp (Carell) visits a bar where he begins talking to four men. Hogancamp eventually shares to them that he loves to wear stiletto shoes instead of men’s shoes, which causes the four to severely harass him. Disturbingly, this ultimately leads to Mark being brutally beaten to within an inch of his life, drastically altering the things he can on a daily basis. Before, he was an incredible illustrator, but because of the trauma caused by the incident his hands now shake, severely diminishing his abilities. In an attempt to heal, Mark builds a wondrous fictional town named Marwen, which allows him to truly be himself by setting up elaborate scenarios with its doll residents.
You may have noticed in recent years that Carell is aggressively making a transition from comedy into drama. This is certainly working, as yet again he does a great job here, especially with the heavier, more emotional scenes. It’s impossible not to feel sympathy for his characte, especially when you factor in that the film is based on a true story. As evidenced in the marketing, one of the picture’s most significant selling points is the doll element itself, which is only ever half successful. Sequences of mayhem with these plastic figures are a ton of fun to watch, and it’s hard not to smile when you’re watching these characters battle it out, yet when it comes to them being integrated with the real world, it’s incredibly jarring.
Kim Miles shot Welcome to Marwen and it looks genuinely beautiful throughout. Zemeckis also does a reasonably good job at directing (which should come as no surprise), but the real problem here is the script by Zemeckis and Caroline Thompson. It simply comes across as uninteresting at times, and it’s difficult to get invested in until much later on in the narrative, with the first act especially being tediously slow. The dialogue can also be rather cringe-inducing on occasion.
Despite a great performance from the increasingly impressive Carell and an interesting story at its heart, Welcome to Marwen sadly fails to impress with its lacklustre script and pacing issues.
Overall Grade: C-
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence, some disturbing images, brief suggestive content, thematic material and language
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Release Date: December 21, 2018 (United States)
Running Time: 116 minutes