Welcome to Marwen
Steve Carell, Eliza Gonzalez, Gwendoline Christie, Janelle Monae, Leslie Mann
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…a cinematic mini-landmark.
Robert Zemeckis made Who Framed Roger Rabbit just over thirty years ago. In Roger, Zemeckis did something that had rarely been done well; he combined animation and live action in a way that made two parallel worlds merge and seem imaginatively and logically integrated. Here, in his 18th feature as director, he once again brings off the ‘impossible’ and makes it look strangely convincing even in its falsity.
The film’s success owes a huge debt to actor Steve Carell who is in every frame. Very soon we will no longer need to comment on how Carell has extended his range, or escaped the bounds of comedy, because his excellent performances in straight roles will just be taken for granted.
Here he plays Mark Hogancamp (aka Captain Hogie – he even looks a little like Bob Crane from Hogan’s Heroes), a middle-aged art photographer and puppeteer who suffered a trauma and now spends his days making tiny tableau-style dioramas about adventures in the second World War. In this world, several Barbie doll heroines help Hogie to kick Nazi ass and win the war over and over. In real life, however, Mark is a much-diminished person, scared back into near-infancy by the brutal treatment he received a few years back. When a beautiful redhead (played by Leslie Mann) moves into the neighbourhood, Mark is torn between just incorporating her into his fantasies or actually growing up and making an effort to romance her for real.
The film has already been labelled a ‘bomb’, and many will complain that the female characters are stereotypically Barbiesque and just there as sex/love objects with no will of their own. The film does also jerk its audience around a bit so that you cannot settle into its narrative easily. On the other hand, this jarring dive in and out of reality deliberately echoes Mark’s smashed up inner world. Zemeckis knows exactly what he wants to achieve and waits for us to catch up.
Technically the film is a tour de force. The way in which Zemeckis directs the puppet action sequences with realistic facial expressions is both unsettling (at first) and compellingly original. One has a feeling that some will dismiss this as an oddity but, also, that in another thirty years it may be seen in its way as a cinematic mini-landmark. A lot of really original films were just not appreciated in their day.
NB: There is a documentary about this subject matter, which you can read about here: http://marwencol.com/