*. Welcome to Marwen is a biopic based on the life of the photographer Mark Hogancamp, whose story had already been told in the acclaimed documentary Marwencol. As I said in my notes on that film, Hogancamp’s story is compelling but it’s really a pretty humdrum doc that didn’t give me much insight into his personality. Welcome to Marwen tries to do more, but left me even more frustrated.
*. First and foremost, I wasn’t sure how much of it was true and how much only “inspired by” Hogancamp’s story. Did the real Mark Hogancamp have a breakdown during a sentencing hearing for the men who nearly killed him, running screaming from the courtroom? Did he really propose to Nicole, the woman who lived across the street from him? Did she really have a scary ex? Or were scenes like these just made up for the movie?
*. You can tell what would have attracted Hollywood, and Robert Zemeckis in particular, to the material. Hogancamp is, after all, an auteur: building sets, creating characters, writing a script, and shooting film of an alternative reality that provides an escape and an antidote to reality. All that and the chance to do some state-of-the-art animation as well. How could you miss?
*. Well, miss they did. By a mile. I got the sense that Steve Carell literally didn’t have any idea how he was supposed to play Hogancamp so just settled on distant. But then he wasn’t given a lot of help. Despite foregrounding a lush psychodrama I still have no idea what makes the guy tick. He’s lonely, sure. But what exactly does his obsession with women’s shoes and stockings amount to? Is it even sexual? The movie offers us nothing.
*. I could go on here but I don’t want to because I really hated this movie. Why so strong a reaction? Because they took a dark and difficult story and dressed it up as the usual Hollywood tripe about the triumph of the human spirit. Some of that might have to do with making a biopic of a living figure, which means any sort of critical attitude or exploration was off the table. But the rest of it?
*. And so Hogancamp’s male friends, who we met in Marwencol so we know they exist, disappear completely and we get a message about how women are the greatest (I think at one point the title was actually going to be The Women of Marwen). Then, as the music soars, the Nazis are finally defeated, Mark stands up to his tormentors in court, and his anxiety pills all get tossed down the sink! His photography show opens at a swank gallery and his gal pal tells him “Gosh darn Mark, you did it.” Did he ever!
*. To take a story that is, as I say, as dark and complicated as this and turn it into such feel-good cartoon pap is inexcusable. And it’s all very dull too. In any event, critics weren’t impressed and audiences hated it, turning it into one of the year’s biggest bombs. A fate that this time was entirely deserved.