Welcome to Marwen
dir Robert Zemeckis
scr Robert Zemeckis, Caroline Thompson
prd Cherylanne Martin, Jack Rapke, Steve Starkey, Robert Zemeckis
with Steve Carell, Leslie Mann, Diane Kruger, Merritt Wever, Eiza Gonzalez, Janelle Monae, Gwendoline Christie, Conrad Coates, Neil Jackson, Eric Keenleyside, Veena Sood, Falk Hentschel
release US 21.Dec.18, UK 1.Jan.19
18/US Universal 1h56
Welcome to Marwen
A little life: Carell and Monae

mann kruger wever
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Welcome to Marwen Based on a moving true story, this film features a wave of sentimentality that very nearly swamps the final act. Filmmaker Robert Zemeckis recounts these events with a skilful eye, flickering adeptly between reality and digitally augmented fantasy. It looks gorgeous, even if the film never develops the edgy drive it needs to sustain such a darkly emotional story. But Steve Carell is excellent.

In rural New York, Mark Hogancamp (Carell) has built a miniature World War II Belgian village called Marwen next to his home. A loner, he is recovering after a vicious attack that left him fundamentally changed. But he still has his artistic soul, and channels this into creating photographic scenarios involving soldier hero Hogie and his team of female warriors taking on the Nazis. And as the sensitive Nicol (Mann) moves in across the street, his friend Roberta (Wever) tries to convince him to attend the hearing where his five attackers will be sentenced.

Mark models dolls after people in his life, and Zemeckis inventively turns the dolls into plastic versions of the cast. This allows him to dissolve back and forth between Mark's planes of reality, digging beneath the surface in ways that echo how Mark hesitantly interacts with the people around him. Most interesting for a film that hinges on so much effects work, it never erupts into a blockbuster, instead remaining intimate and dark. Although this means the pacing feels slow, and the action sequences deliberate rather than organic.

Carell offers a terrific glimpse into the mind of this troubled man, a skilled illustrator who can now barely write his name. He's a bundle of nervous tics, perhaps caused by the medication his carer (Christie) tries to limit. So Mark has personified this drug as a freaky witch (Kruger) in his fantasy world. Carell beautifully expresses Mark's pain and confusion, as well as his creativity and resolve. So watching him battle through is inspiring.

The actors around him are less defined, although Zemeckis offers hints to Nicol's backstory that offer Mann some emotional depth. Zemeckis also has fun with Mark's colourful miniature world, including a rather silly Back to the Future riff. But amid the lighter moments, it's the heavy stuff that lingers, including the point about how these right-wing thugs attacked Mark simply because he admitted that he sometimes rather likes wearing stiletto heels. This is an important message, worth finding amid the surging sentimentality.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 17.Dec.18

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© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall