So… TEAM AMERICA if it was a drama? And probably good? I haven’t seen TEAM AMERICA, I have no intention to, but I imagine I wouldn’t like it.
Alright, so a few things to consider. This is based on true events. Emphasis on “based.” Yes, there was an artist dude named Mark Hogencamp, although his WWII model was called Marwencol, not… Marwen. Anyway, he was attacked for admitting that he was a cross-dresser and was nearly killed by bigoted assholes. This movie is more or less based on him.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Steve Carell (BEAUTIFUL BOY , LAST FLAG FLYING , CAFÉ SOCIETY , BIG SHORT , and the upcoming VICE ) and Leslie Mann (BLOCKERS , THE COMEDIAN , HOW/SINGLE , VACATION , PARANORMAN , and the upcoming MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN ).
In support, we have Merritt Wever (BIRDMAN , SIGNS , and the upcoming CHARLIE SAYS ), Gwendoline Christie (DARKEST MINDS , STAR WARS EPISODE VIII , ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS , HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY 2 , and upcoming films IN FABRIC  and THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD ), Eiza González (BABY DRIVER , JEM/HOMOGRAMS , and upcoming films PARADISE HILLS  and ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL ), Diane Kruger (THE INFILTRATOR ), and Janelle Monáe (HIDDEN FIGURES , and upcoming films UGLYDOLLS  and HARRIET ).
Now for the crew. Directing and co-writing, we have Robert Zemeckis, known for THE WALK (2015). Zemeckis’ partner-in-pen is Caroline Thompson, known for CORPSE BRIDE (2005) and THE ADDAMS FAMILY (1991). Composing the score is Alan Silvestri, known for AVENGERS (2012) and INFINITY WAR (2018), THE WALK, CAPTAIN AMERICA: FIRST AVENGER (2011), and the upcoming AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019). The cinematographer is C. Kim Miles, known for THE FLASH (2014 – ongoing) and 9 episodes of MORTAL KOMBAT: LEGACY (2011 – 2013). Finally, the editor is Jeremiah O’Driscoll, known for RINGS (2017) and THE WALK.
Overall, I want this on my top ten list this year, but I said the same thing about BEAUTIFUL BOY, and that was disappointing. I’m hoping for a bounce back with Carell on this one. It looks emotional, creative, and funny. I want a grand slam here, guys. Fingers crossed.
This is my honest opinion of: WELCOME TO MARWEN
Mark Hogencamp (Steve Carell) suffered a traumatic experience. One night at a bar, he admitted to a few men that he was a cross-dresser, specifically he likes women’s shoes. As a result, he was beaten to near death and suffered from retrograde amnesia. Though he’s since made a full recovery, he still struggles with PTSD and dissociative episodes. In order to deal with his trauma, he created a small miniature town, called Marwen, populated with dolls that are modeled after himself, and women that he’s known and takes pictures of them as art pieces. As the court date draws closer for the men who beat Mark, he also gets a new neighbor named Nicol (Leslie Mann), who learns of Marwen, and becomes fascinated.
Mmph, damn it. I really wanted to like this movie. I was banking on this being one of my favorite films of the year. Sadly… it’s one of the lesser ones. That’s not to say that I don’t think there is some artistic merit, but this was not a well put together flick.
The movie starts off incredibly promising, as the opening scenes are the animated doll portions. This is actually one of the reasons why this saves the flick from being a total shit-show. The animation is downright breath-taking and almost looks damn real. The way the jaws move, the pivoting of the hips, rolling of the shoulders, the subtle movements of the eyes and eyebrows, it’s gorgeous how they’re animated. Was this mocap? It was motion capture. Man, give Zemeckis some serious credit, even though his animated films haven’t always fared great, he knows how to make a damn good looking movie in terms of his animation. Even when a character “dies,” it’s both humorous and sensible that the bodies fall over in doll-like positions.
And I will also give credit that both Carell and Mann bring their A-games. As Mark, Carell is clearly socially awkward. He’s a nice guy, soft-spoken, and so emotionally fragile and vulnerable. The moment he sees someone or something that triggers his anxieties and fears, he panics and runs away. His running isn’t even running, so much as long-stride waddling, which sort of adds to how helpless and vulnerable he really is and I liked that detail that Carell put in. I can’t say if that’s actually how he runs, but either way, it makes you feel for the guy who, more or less, just wants to be left alone. And Mann, damn, this woman can’t take the cutest of younger women and act cute-circles around them. Take that line of hers that’s also in the trailer, “I thought I heard you needed more… gumbo.” That line is not funny. And yet, I giggled. Why? Because only Leslie f@#king Mann can make an unfunny line humorous! Why isn’t this woman in better movies! F@#k you, Hollywood! But she’s so sweet, tender, and understanding toward his struggles that a relationship blooming between them almost makes too much sense.
<<<SPOILERS – highlight to reveal>>> [ Actually, more on the relationship between Mark and Nicol, it’s beyond refreshing to see a heterosexual male and female not end up together by the end. Even in more progressive and better-written movies, this shit is still present and isn’t always earned between the romantic interests. Here, it makes perfect sense that they don’t end up together. I mean, Mark is clearly mentally unstable, proposing to Nicol after such a short amount of time knowing each other. But she knows that, and she’s as gentle as can be when she rejects him, but she’s also honest about it. It’s easy to see empathize with both sides. ] <<<END SPOILERS>>>
But… yeah, it’s time to be realistic. This movie is not good, so… let’s get to it.
The very reason why this movie isn’t that bad to me is actually the very reason why it doesn’t work as a complete package. After awhile, the animated scenes aren’t clear about what they’re supposed to represent anymore. You sort of get a feel for it at first. The Nazi characters represent the dick-wipes that beat him and gave him amnesia, and the women of Marwen represent the women he’s met that have helped him along the way. Maybe you can even interpret some of the scenes as his way of mulling through his emotions to make sense of them. When Captain Hogie falls for doll-Nicol, it’s Mark trying to make sense of his feelings for real-Nicol. However, it’s not always as clear cut as that, and the scenes get repetitive in that way. If I’m not mistaken, there’s at least three scenes that depict this, and that was all that was needed. More scenes felt like they were padding out the runtime and that’s just not effective storytelling. And beyond that, not all of the animated scenes served a purpose. There’s a new doll named Elsa (voiced by Siobhan Williams) and an entire action scene is dedicated to her getting saved and then killed off. This entire scene served the purpose of: never get close to Hogie, otherwise you die. Again, this can be interpreted as Mark acknowledging his failed relationships, but we never actually see him interact with the previous women he’s been romantically linked to. Hell, they don’t even get a proper reference. Even Wendy (voiced by Stefanie von Pfetten), who is likely supposed to be so important that she shares half the name of this fictional city in Belgium with Mark, doesn’t get any proper screen time. Yet, they were married. But nope, we don’t get any screen time with her.
Subplots spring up and go nowhere. From the moment that Nicol comes into the movie, we’re introduced to a psycho, stalker ex-cop, ex-boyfriend of hers, and you’d think the movie is going to do something with this. In any other movie, he’d be another asshole who beats up Mark, or destroys Marwen, or… I don’t know, anything. But he’s only in two scenes. No joke, the next scene he’s in, he’s harassing Mark, declaring him a white supremacist, misunderstanding what his Nazi dolls mean, and we never see him again in the flick. He’s never dealt with in the slightest. Nicol doesn’t call the cops on him, hell, she barely yells at him for his actions against Mark. This subplot is completely dropped from the movie to the point where it didn’t even need to be in it. Some clever editing would have fixed that right up.
<<<SPOILERS>>> [ Even the twist with Deja (voiced by Diane Kruger) doesn’t even feel like a very good twist. How many attackers attacked Mark? Five? He had five Nazis for Hogie to fight. Deja, according to Mark, is responsible for resurrecting the Nazis that the good guys keep fighting. For the entire duration of the runtime, we’re not really sure who Deja was ever supposed to be. Even Mark didn’t know. My interpretation was that Deja represented death, and constantly tried to seduce Mark into committing suicide. It was already established that Mark felt like his attack was his own fault because he was too drunk to keep his mouth shut. But nope, the revelation is that Deja is the lead white supremacist guy that attacked Mark. Um… explain. Five attackers, five Nazi dolls… six if you want to include Major Meyer (voiced by Neil Jackson), so… who is that fifth Nazi doll supposed to be if Deja represents the leader? This make absolutely no sense! ] <<<END SPOILERS>>>
The more I think about it, the more I have to wonder what I would do if I was writing the movie. I think the traditional route of just showing Carell as Mark and keeping the movie pure live-action, but telling his story linearly, would have worked fine. But I truly believe that Zemeckis’ animated portions were amazing. I think the best way to pay homage to Hogancamp would be to do Zemeckis’ famous animation all the way through using the dolls and World War II aesthetic. But again, linear. We should know who Wendy is. That seems like a story that should be told in its own right.
Overall, this movie breaks my heart. I wanted to love it, I really did. I even admit, there are aspects of this movie that I love, and even adore. Specifically, the animated parts of the movie and both Carell and Mann do really well in spite of the material. But that material is the very reason this movie fails. Few things, if anything at all, really flows together. Far too much of this story feels rushed or incomplete and most of the animated moments don’t make sense in terms of the narrative. Its heart is clearly in the right place and you can tell that this movie had effort thrown into it, but the writing is what makes this movie suffer to terribly. There is a lot of hate surrounding this movie and I really wish I could argue. But it’s warranted. I don’t agree to that extent, but I get it. Not the worst movie of the year for me, but a complete and utter letdown.
My honest rating for WELCOME TO MARWEN: a weak 3/5
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