There are moments in life that are hard to look past. Some people suffer through events so traumatic that the mere memory of it can haunt them and make it difficult for them to let go of it. Most people require support from friends and family members to heal, while others simply do their best to move on. Some people, however, find productive and creative ways to help heal from such an event, and this is the subject of the new film Welcome to Marwen from director Robert Zemeckis.
In the aftermath of a horrific beating from five white supremacists, Mark Hogancamp (Steve Carell) is struggling to move on, as the memory of his attackers and his growing pain killer addiction haunt him nightly. To help him heal from this ordeal, Mark builds a miniature, World War II-set village in him back yard, calling it Marwen. Many of the residents of Marwen are based on actual people he knows, including his new neighbor Nicol (Leslie Mann). But will he be able to hold it together when he is forced to face his attackers.
There are moments in this film where it’s easy to see why some people don’t like it. The film becomes weird in places to the point where it’s hard to figure out what is happening at times, and the tone can feel odd at different times too. It’s also very sentimental in places, and it’s become common knowledge that people aren’t so accepting of those kinds of movies.
While it’s easy to point fingers and say that it’s nothing more than a bloated Hollywood film made to cash in on Hogancamp’s true story, it’s actually something much more than that. Sure, in places it seems weird and you can’t help but think this is strange to do a story like this based on someone’s actual experiences. But underneath all that Hollywood sizzle is a very inspiring and emotional story that lives up to Robert Zemeckis’s hallmarks.
It’s nice to see Steve Carell branch out and attempt to more dramatic roles, instead of the comedic roles that have defined him as an actor. This is good, because he actually does better in these series roles than the comedic ones. In this film, he does an amazing job as Hogancamp, perfectly capturing a man suffering from PTSD. In fact, the conversations he carries on with his dolls is often more fun to watch than the ones he has with other people. That’s how well he pulls off the role.
From the trailers, it was a little confusing how they were going to balance the live action sequence with the animated ones. It almost seemed like that was going to be a hard thing to pull off. However, Zemeckis found a way to do it, and the scenes feel perfectly in sync with each other. The transitions between the two styles feel natural and they move the story along at the nice and easy pace.
Yes, the tone can get a little weird at times, but you have to remember one thing in order to really enjoy this film: it’s all in his head. None of the animated sequences we see on screen are really happening. It’s all representations of him remembering, reliving, and learning to move past the trauma that he experienced. This does lead into some rather odd scenes, but everything is some kind of representation of his current mindset. Remember that, and the scenes won’t seem so weird when you watch them.
Welcome to Marwen has all the ingredients for a box office disaster, while at the same time has all the ingredients to be a real Oscar contender. Depending on how you look at life and trauma depends on how you are going to respond to the subject matter. If you don’t like sentimental stories about working through stress in hard times, then you probably won’t like this film. However, if you’re willing to look past all that and see the inspirational story at its core, then you will enjoy this great new edition to Carell’s and Zemeckis’s libraries.