Steve Carell continues his fine run of dramatic turns in this seemingly whimsical yet serious study of trauma. He portrays Mark Hogancamp, an artist badly beaten in a gang assault who creates his own therapy through a model town and its population of dolls. In a dual role, he’s also Mark’s heroic avatar Cap’n Hogie, whom he photographs in dioramas of World War II derring-do.
Welcome to Marwen is, like its true story inspiration, a bit of a curiosity. Director Robert Zemeckis returns to his hyper-stylised performance capture technique (previously seen in The Polar Express and Beowulf) as Marwen’s dolls come to life, in scenes which pop with energy and primary colours. But the heart of the film is in Hogancamp’s sad, lonely real life and Carell is once again utterly compelling, imbuing a broken man with slowly emerging optimism. He’s ably supported by the wonderful Leslie Mann as kindly new neighbour Nicol, while Merritt Wever also deserves praise as sympathetic, supremely patient friend Roberta.
One of the key themes is the objectification and fetishisation of women and their clothing. As Mark turns important people in his life into dolls, Nicol, Roberta and others become – without exception – slim, busty and scantily-clad. Mark’s relationship with and views of women are clearly complicated. He deifies them as “the saviours” while fearing most of the male characters, and though never condoning this, the movie also fails to fully explore it.
Visually stunning and anchored by a consummately textured performance by Carell, Welcome to Marwen is an intriguing and original drama looking at pain, guilt and the healing power of art. It also contains some problematic gender stereotypes, and one or two of Mark’s triumphs over adversity feel too easily won – but it will leave you wanting to talk about it afterwards.
CAST: Steve Carell, Leslie Mann, Diane Kruger, Merritt Wever, Janelle Monáe, Eiza González, Gwendoline Christie
DIRECTOR: Robert Zemeckis
WRITERS: Caroline Thompson, Robert Zemeckis
SYNOPSIS: When a devastating attack shatters Mark Hogancamp and wipes away all memories, he meticulously creates a wondrous town where he can heal and be heroic. Through his fantasy world, he draws strength to triumph in the real one.