Monday, April 29, 2019

Art Therapy: Welcome to Marwen

Steve Carell and Merritt Wever in Welcome to Marwen.

The almost universal disdain with which Robert Zemeckis’s Welcome to Marwen was met on its Christmas release aroused my curiosity, but by the time I had a chance to check it out it had vanished. There had been no press screenings and though it was award season, no screeners were sent out. One might have thought that Zemeckis’s name or that of Steve Carell, who plays the lead, would have rescued it from its ignominious demise, but I had to wait until it came out on Amazon Prime to catch up with it. And it turns out to be so good that the stench around it seems like a bad joke. It’s based on the true story of Mark Hogencamp, who was attacked in 2000 by five men at a bar in his hometown in northern New York and abandoned for dead; he survived, but his memory was wiped and he had severe PTSD. His strategy for dealing with it was to construct a doll village on his property that he called Marwencol in which the characters, mostly versions of Mark and women friends from his life after the attack, are reimagined as Allied warriors of the Second World War holed up in a village in Belgium. Hogancamp became known for his photos of Marwencol – and they provided him with a livelihood. The story is familiar to art-house mavens from Jeff Malmberg’s memorable 2010 documentary Marwencol. What Zemeckis brings to it is real directorial finesse and invention – not to mention Carell, in a sensational performance that’s the best thing he’s done thus far.