Welcome to Marwen

This is yet another movie based on a real person. Mark Hogancamp was brutally beaten by five men outside a bar in New York. He made the mistake of mentioning that he liked to wear women’s shoes. Something about getting their “essence.” This hate crime in 2000 left him with a scar across his face and robbed him of his memory and livelihood (the ability to draw). In fact, he can barely write his name. Since he had comic book style drawings of World War II in his closet (along with many pairs of women’s shoes), he started creating a Belgian village from World War II, that had to fend off Nazis. The Barbie dolls that sported guns and grenades…made me think this is probably something Quentin Tarantino did as a boy. They’re gorgeous (Janelle Monae is a doll as a doll and in life), and they shoot Nazis, impale Nazis on fences, cut them in half, and dolls are sometimes tied up and tortured…oh, and they sometimes run around topless. They even get creative in a bell tower (yes, Tarantino is gonna love this flick).

Robert Zemeckis (Cast Away, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Flight, Forrest Gump) did this movie. A few times it reminded me of his Polar Express. It had some amazing CGI effects, and watching the dolls come to life was interesting. At first. Then it got repetitive, gimmicky, and…tiresome by the halfway point of this two hour film.

It detracted from a sensitive, interesting performance from Steve Carell. My wife said, “I would’ve liked this movie if it was done as an indie picture, instead of a schmaltzy Zemeckis production.”

It was a terrific point, although…I am the only critic around that disliked Lars and the Real Girl, and that was an indie flick.

The real girls, that became the fake girls in doll form, are the new neighbor Nicol (Leslie Mann), a Russian caretaker (Gwendoline Christie), the store clerk, and a physical therapist that’s missing part of a leg (Janelle Monae).

The town of Marwen was named after Mark, and Wendy — she’s the bartender who found him in the street after the attack and saved his life. If you know the name of the documentary that came out in 2010, that’s kind of a spoiler for a scene near the end.

Watching Mark in real life, made me think the story took a lot of liberties with what he was dealing with in real life (the screenplay was written by Zemeckis and Caroline Thompson, writer of City of Ember). It’s just hard to believe Nicol, who quickly sees he named a doll after her and drools while talking about it to her, would go from the initial shock to…inviting him over for tea. And when it’s clearly obvious he has a thing for her, why is she not keeping him at arm’s length? She’d have to either think he’s the type of guy that’s going to steal her shoes like Chris Elliott in There’s Something About Mary or worse…she’s going to be put in a dungeon and told to “put the lotion on its skin” like Silence of the Lambs.

It’s also hard to believe that his caretaker would bring him extra pills, after he said the other bottles fell down the sink. Really?

It also seemed that every time the movie had an intriguing scene, it got ruined by something. One example was a scene where Mark builds this interesting time machine, using a lava lamp as a power source. The wheels folded down and it left vapor trails reminiscent of Zemeckis’ Back to the Future car.

Other times I thought about 40-Year-Old Virgin. In that, Carell’s character collected dolls and would sometimes use that big magnifying glass to paint them. He also watched a porno and wasn’t aroused, because his own bad thoughts got in the way. And Leslie Mann…was his first attempt at having sex in 40-Year-Old Virgin. Also, Carell’s character in Dinner for Schmucks was considered a schmuck because he was an adult that made dioramas. For those that saw that movie, it’s hard not to think about it here. That being said, I’m glad Carell was cast. I liked him in this part.

Another scene in this that was troublesome involved Mark’s interaction with a clerk at a hobby store he frequents. It was working, until she then pulls out a Nazi WWII action figure she thinks he might like. Well, he loses it and falls to the ground screaming and runs from the store. It’s weird that since she knows him so well, and knows the type of PTSD he’s dealing with and the Nazis that attacked him in real life…that she wouldn’t think this might be a trigger.

That clerk is played by Merritt Wever (The Walking Dead). It’s hard to believe her character in real life would be interested in Mark romantically, which she obviously is.

The CGI was fantastic, and it was a fun movie to look at. You’re never really bored watching it, despite it being a flawed film.

It might have the best soundtrack of a movie I’ve heard all year. An incredible cover of “Spooky” by Joan Osborne, Roy Orbison (who we just heard in Aquaman), Robert Palmer (which will remind you of his videos with all the women), Jack White (“I’m Shaking” which is his best solo song), The Flamingos (“I Only Have Eyes For You” which might be the best ballad ever), Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade”, Joni Mitchell, Dandy Warhols, and The Temptations. And Hollywood hates the conservative Ted Nugent, so why not have Nicol’s abusive ex-boyfriend blasting “Cat Scratch Fever” when his car pulls up?

2 stars out of 5.

 

 

 

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