REVIEW: “Welcome to Marwen”


Inspired by Jeff Malmberg’s fantastic 2010 documentary “Marwencol”, director and co-writer Robert Zemeckis sets out to dramatize the incredible true story of Mark Hogancamp. It’s unquestionably a worthwhile story which Malmberg’s film told well. Zemeckis takes a hearty swing at it but ends up with a pretty big whiff.

In 2000 Hogancamp was attacked by five men outside of a Kingston, NY bar. He was beaten within an inch of his life  and would spend nine days in a coma. Hogancamp suffered brain damage and severe memory loss. With no means of paying for therapy he lived out a second life within a meticulously crafted miniature town he built modeled after a World War II Belgian village. Within his town of Marwen resides dolls representing those who have influenced his life both for good and bad.

Film Title: Welcome to Marwen

Zemeckis drops us right into Hogancamp’s therapeutic fantasy. Steve Carell stars as both Hogancamp and as Hoagie, Mark’s war hero avatar in Marwen. The two-sided story bounces back-and-forth between his battle to overcome his real world anxieties and the CGI animated Marwen where the dolls come to life and tell stories that mirror his struggles. Problem is neither side is truly fleshed out or given the attention it desperately needs.

The events that led to his state are only covered through flashbacks, newspaper clippings, or gleaned from casual conversations. Instead Zemeckis concentrates on a mundane series of days leading up to the sentencing hearing for Hogancamp’s attackers. Along the way we bump into an assortment of people from his life, several of whom makeup his ‘women of Marwen’. All of them feel brushed over with hardly an ounce of depth. Leslie Mann is the one exception playing a new neighbor. But even she is paper-thin and you know exactly where her story is going.


The animation sequences are cool visually but are often at odds with the other scenes. Zemeckis doesn’t seem to have a grasp of the overall tone he is going for. While these scenes do reflect (to varying degrees) the inner pain and turmoil Hogancamp struggles with, they are often too silly to carry any emotional weight. And too often they rob the other scenes by popping up time the movie could have invested into the real-world story.

Overall “Welcome to Marwen” is a frustrating (and frankly boring) mess. It’s a case of Zemeckis locking into a good concept but not having the clear-eyed vision to see it through. He gets so bogged down in his fictional additions to Mark Hogancamp’s account that he misses what made this strange, heart-tugging story so compelling. Carell certainly gives it his all, but even his good performance couldn’t keep me from constantly checking my watch.



12 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Welcome to Marwen”

  1. I heard about the documentary that the film is based on is much more interesting as I was unsure about this and seeing the results. I think Zemeckis needs to stop. Making narrative-based films from documentaries is not the way to go. Plus, I think he needs to focus more on storytelling and engaging characters rather than gimmicks.

    • Yep! As I mentioned the doc is really good. This thing is an absolute slog. It’s amazing how lost Zemeckis seems to be. He doesn’t drive this story to any meaningful place. And by the end it all feels so fake. Give it a pass.

      • Someone needs to do a Skip Riggins on filmmakers who are losing their ways through gimmicks, visual effects, and such. Filmmaking is about storytelling. Story comes first. Then a visual idea of the story. Then to show what camera angles you need to tell the story. Worry about the visual effects later. Why can’t they just fucking get that idea?

  2. Can’t say that I’m all that surprised. The trailer made it look like a big ball of saccharine melodrama with creepy looking animation. I guess that’s what it is. I may still see this, but can’t say that I’m in a rush to.

    • Wait for DVD. There is absolutely nothing here that should drive you to the theater. It’s a big bore. The animation is kinda cool, but the story that drives the animated side of the story is paper-thin.

  3. I, too enjoyed Marwencol and that’s probably why I got so much second hand embarrassment from the trailer for this film. I’m happy to be reassured that skipping is the right idea. lol

      • No I haven’t! I like Carell, but this year seems to be so uneven for him. He’s great in Vice, oddly off in Beautiful Boy (feels like a slightly souped up Michael Scott at times), and sounds like he needed a stronger direction from Zemeckis here.

      • Don’t waste your time on this one. Carell’s not bad at all here but the material is so flat. I don’t know what he could have done to save it.

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