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Non-Review Review: Welcome to Marwen

Welcome to Marwen is a deeply weird film, and not in a good way.

The basic structure of the film is a feel good narrative of a character coming to terms with his post-traumatic stress disorder. Mark Hogancamp was beaten almost to death by a group of Neo-Nazis outside a bar, for nothing more than mentioning that he liked to wear women’s clothes. Mark has retreated into himself, creating a model village called “Marwen”, an anachronistic Belgian village from the Second World War. The town is home to a toyetic doppelgänger for Mark, the heroic “Hoogie”, who finds the courage to fight Nazis despite his losses.

The toast of the town.

The arc of the film is very obvious from that premise, with a number of other details sprinkled into the script to provide stakes and momentum. Nicol, an attractive redhead dealing with the loss of her son and a stalker ex-boyfriend, moves in across the way and connects with Mark. At the same time, the sentencing of the criminals who attacked Mark is fast approaching, and Mark needs to read his “victim impact statement” in open court. There is also a suggestion that Mark is wrestling with addiction, having to careful ration his painkillers.

All of this is fairly standard prestige picture stuff, providing Mark and the audience with a very clear journey across the film and offering a potentially hopeful conclusion to Mark’s journey. This is all very hokey, but it could work. It is a very earnest narrative, but director Robert Zemeckis is the kind of storyteller who knows how to make those sorts of narratives work. Forrest Gump is a beloved classic for a reason, no matter how clumsy and hokey it might be.

Mark his words…

However, Welcome to Marwen chooses to elaborate upon its stock upbeat triumph-over-adversity template in a number of frankly bizarre ways. Welcome to Marwen flails wildly between genres, pivoting from earnest and overwrought melodrama to absurd fantasy to lazy comedy on a dime. The issue is not that Welcome to Marwen doesn’t cohere as a film, the issue is that many of the individual scenes within the film struggle to find a consistent tone from one minute to another.

Zemeckis is a skilled enough craftsman that the film impresses on a purely technical level; the dolls tilt into the uncanny valley on occasion, but there is every indication that this is intentional. However, on a purely narrative level, Welcome to Marwen feels like it was put together by a twelve-year-old who had only read about how movies work.

Hoogie’s heroes.

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