[Early Review] Welcome to Marwen (2018)

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Cast: Steve Carell, Leslie Mann, Diane Kruger, Merritt Wever, Janelle Monae, Eiza Gonzalez, Gwendoline Christie, Leslie Zemeckis, Neil Jackson

Screenplay: Caroline Thompson, Robert Zemeckis

116 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence, some disturbing images, brief suggestive content, thematic material and language.

 

I look forward to every film Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Allied) makes. The man is always a captivating storyteller who brims with ambition and pushes the boundaries with every time he steps behind a camera. Ever since I saw the first trailer for Welcome to Marwen, I felt that this was another chance he had to push himself further. The struggle for the film, based on true events, is that it can’t seem to translate to the big screen in a wholly appealing and accessible way.

Mark Hogancamp (Steve Carell, Beautiful Boy, TV’s The Office) is struggling. He’s a man with a secret that makes some people not like him. When he is beaten within an inch of his life by some scumbags, he is unable to cope with his memory loss, his physical and emotional pain, his anxiety, and his depression. So he creates a world, Marwen, where he imagines himself as World War II Captain Mark “Hoagie” Hogancamp and all the women in his life as kick-ass soldiers, it helps. Enter new next-door neighbor Nicol (Leslie Mann, Knocked Up, Blockers), an attractive and friendly human who takes to Mark well and finds him to be a really interesting person. When Mark designs a figure in Marwen after Nicol, he finds that she helps him to be the person he needs to be to defeat his demons.

When Welcome to Marwen works, it works really well. When the film misses the mark, it misses it hard, so let’s unwrap this thing, firstly Steve Carell. Carell is becoming such a prolific and nuanced actor and he excites me with every new project he signs on for. Marwen is no different. His portrayal of Hogancamp is really incredible, and he accesses portions of anxiety and depression very nicely. His performance really highlights that sometimes, anxiety and depression manifest themselves in different ways.

Though Leslie Mann does great work as Nicol, I really don’t like where they take her character, especially with where she ends up. The ending of Nicol’s arc is really odd and it kind of thuds the movie. It feels like there isn’t anything for her character to do in the latter half of the film, but there’s a better way to wrap up her character.

The rest of the women of Marwen all have nice performance work, but I didn’t get the chance to connect with many of them. Gwendoline Christie (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Darkest Minds) plays Anna, Mark’s social worker. She gets one scene, but we are asked to connect with her action-figure avatar. Janelle Monae (Hidden Figures, Moonlight) plays Julie, his physical therapist, and it seems on the surface that we will get some time with her, but she barely plays a role outside of, again, her action-figure avatar. Eiza Gonzalez (Baby Driver, TV’s From Dusk Till Dawn) is Caralala, a co-worker of Mark’s at a local pub and grill, and she gets more screentime than the rest, but she isn’t a fully-realized character.

It’s too bad that we don’t have much characterization with the women of Marwen because the sequences in Marwen are really interesting and layered. Again, some of it works and some of it doesn’t. The visual palate of the Marwen stuff is great. I was worried that these figures wouldn’t get the emotion and look right and the audience would be stranded with this fake-looking character that’s supposed to look fake and real. It’s an odd problem to have. Thankfully, I never stepped out of the film during these sequences outside of a really odd Back to the Future reference that crashes and burns near the end of the film.

The Marwen sequences struggle with the characterization because we don’t get to know these people in real life and therefore cannot see the portions of their Marwen personas that belong to them and the portions that belong to Mark. Each time the Nazis show up, we get a lot of gunfire but no character. I was forced to relay all the characters through Mark’s spectrum.

Welcome to Marwen is hit-and-miss. The fantasy scenes are really interesting and kind of feel like a more-improved attempt at Sucker Punch, where the fantasy is important and has stakes on the film, but the film’s screenplay skips some important moments and includes some really strange stuff. The villain of Marwen, personified by a witch named Deja (Diane Kruger, Inglourious Basterds, In the Fade) really felt out of place. I wanted to like the movie so bad, and I did enjoy myself more than most, but it’s frustrating when it stumbles. It is Carell’s intense performance that kept me going and invested throughout, and he deserves more recognition than he gets.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Robert Zemeckis’s Back to the Future, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[Happy 30th Birthday!] [Top 250 Friday] #51: Back to the Future (1985)

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Director: Robert Zemeckis

Cast: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover

Screenplay: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale

116 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Song “The Power of Love”

iMDB Top 250: #44 (as of 03/04/2016)

 

Director Robert Zemeckis (Cast Away, Flight) is one of my all-time favorite directors. Back to the Future is one of my all-time favorite films. I could watch it as well as both sequels over and over again until the end of time, but when I was really young, it was just the third film that I was addicted to. I must’ve watched our old VHS tape a thousand times. I ruined that tape. It wasn’t until my teen years that I understood and fell in love with the original film.

Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox, TV’s Family Ties, Annie) is a slacker, a young man addicted to a dream of musical stardom. Those around him attribute his failings on his strange friendship with Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For), an equally floundering individual who has potential but hasn’t invented anything of significance. But when Doc invited Marty to see his ultimate new experiment, a time machine in the body of a DeLorean, Marty ends up on an adventure through time as he tries to avoid creating a paradox while also trying to get back to the future!

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Zemeckis turned an incredible screenplay with Bob Gale into an incredibly crafted film about more than just time travel. The true path of the film centers on Marty’s inability to connect to his parents, Lorraine (Lea Thompson, TV’s Caroline in the City, Left Behind) and George (Crispin Glover, Alice in Wonderland, Open Season 3), until he meets them as teenagers in 1955. His completed film is perfect in every way, but it took some time to actually get there.

Michael J. Fox so well embodies a 1980s teenage like Marty McFly that it’s almost impossible to see the character played by anyone. His performance is perfect casting, but his hiring didn’t happen smoothly. Fox had to pass on the role due to his heightened role on Family Ties, so Zemeckis hired actor Eric Stoltz. Stoltz was a method actor and did his best with the role, but he just wasn’t working out actor several weeks of trying. By that time, Fox’s commitment to Family Ties had been able to free him up, so he replaced Stoltz and the rest is history. Apparently, other future big names like Johnny Depp also tested for the role, but he wasn’t very memorable.

There were other problems with the cast. Crispin Glover hadn’t been as infamous a performer as he was later known for. The actor, who famously went…how do I put it…batshit as his career derailed into minutiae, got so nervous while performing some lines that he had to mouth the lines and fix them in post-production. His performance as George McFly, a loser who doesn’t think himself worthy of his future wife’s love.

The rest of the cast worked perfectly. Christopher Lloyd gives the best performance of his career as Doc, Lea Thompson as Marty’s mother who unknowingly has the hots for him in 1955, and of course Thomas F. Wilson as the legendary bully Biff, who improvised many of his most famous lines like “make like a tree and get out of here.”

Perhaps the most well-known character in the film is the time machine itself. It is so wonderfully 80s that it helped define an entire generation of moviegoers. They used three DeLoreans in production (ironically more DeLoreans than were actually sold).

The set design in the film is very important. The production needed to find dual sets that displayed how things change between 1955 and 1985, yet also how things stay the same. In fact, they used actual set pieces from the 1959 original pilot for The Twilight Zone to emulate 1955 Hill Valley.

The score from Alan Silvestri is so grandiose and well-complementing with Huey Lewis and the News’ Oscar-nominated songs that it turns what could be construed as a relatively simple coming-of-age story into a cosmic cool tale of sci-fi that raises the stakes of the adventure. Huey Lewis himself cameos early in the film as the judge of Marty’s band. In fact, music plays such a big part in placing scenes within a particular time period as well as the characters. In fact, when Marty is performing “Johnny B. Goode” later in the film, he emulates the best current musicians like The Who (kicking over the speaker), AC/DC (playing on his back on the floor), Chuck Berry (hopping on one leg across the stage), and Jimi Hendrix/Eddie Van Halen (with the emphasized guitar solo).

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Back to the Future is a classic film that has ages so perfectly. The film is virtually flawless and each time I watch it, I discover something new (it took me so long to catch the Twin Pines Mall reference that Marty butterfly-effects after traveling to 1955). It helped launch one of the most recognizable and beloved franchises in film history and remains a film that other filmmakers only aspire to reach. I recommend it to teens today who haven’t seen it as a part of popular culture. Hell, I recommend it to everyone.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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