My dad’s cousin suggested over Christmas that she wanted to see the movie with the Barbie dolls. I figured she meant Welcome to Marwen and informed her that critical reviews for the movie weren’t good. She asked for some evidence, so I pulled out my phone and called up the Rotten Tomatoes scores and noted a 27% or so score from critics. She disregarded the critics because critics are, in her view, often wrong, so I told her the audience score was only about 52%. She decided that made it a good movie because more than half of the audience liked it.
Well, I’ve seen Welcome to Marwen now, so I can answer that.
Mark Hogancamp (Steve Carell) is an artist who specializes in photography, particularly of a series about some dolls he uses to tell stories with in the fictional town of Marwen, Belgium during World War II. At some point in the past, Mark was horribly beaten outside a bar, and the resulting brain damage left him with no memory of his former life and cost him his skills as an illustrator. Inside Marwen, Mark has reimagined himself as “Captain Hogie,” leader of a squad of women most of whom were based on women he knows. His attackers are the Nazis who continually threaten Hogie and the town. The real life men were arrested and convicted, and Mark needs to get down to the courthouse to make a statement to ensure they get the maximum sentence for their crime. Why did they beat him up? Mark likes to wear women’s shoes.
And then a new neighbor, Nicol (Leslie Mann), moves in across the street and Mark finds himself smitten with her.
So, as I watched this, I wondered what the hell happened to director Robert Zemeckis. What was he thinking here? He got the idea based off a documentary about the real Mark Hogancamp called Marwencol. This is something like the second time Zemeckis got the idea to make a dramatic movie based off a story from a compelling documentary, but as I watched this, with Carell doing double-duty as both Mark and as the CGI Captain Hogie, I wasn’t sure how serious this movie was treating its subject. Any thought that this might be something of a serious drama where Mark uses the dolls as a form of therapy have to contend with some of the more humorous moments involving the dolls that undermine the seriousness of the story. And that’s before Gwendoline Christie bursts in for the only scene she has in her human form sporting the most cartoonish Russian accent possible.
By the by, three of the women who inspired Mark’s exhibit don’t appear in the movie very much as humans. Christie and Janelle Monae only have one scene each as humans, and the one played by Zemeckis’ wife…well, she’s a special case I’d rather not say anything more about.
Plus, the treatment of Mark’s interest in shoes seems a little superficial. The movie’s treatment of Hogancamp’s real-life fetish is never treated disrespectfully, but it did feel like the real thing was a bit deeper than whatever the movie has to offer.
And then Zemeckis threw in an obvious reference to one of his most famous movies.
Seriously, what the hell happened to him? This story was so mawkish and simplistically sentimental, that I actually found myself smirking and shaking my head during what was probably supposed to be an emotional climax. Likewise, I had no problem checking my email during the movie. Whatever this movie was trying to do, it just didn’t work. The special effects were pretty good, but the movie around them wasn’t. 5.5 out of 10 obvious attempts to ask an oblivious man out.