Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Welcome To Marwen

Guy N’ Dolls

Welcome To Marwen
2018 USA
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
UK cinema release print.

So... I saw Welcome To Marwen on the first day of it’s release in the UK, which was New Year’s Day 2019. I more than not often find some of the best films of the year released in the UK over here at that time and, perhaps surprisingly, this film is no exception to that rule.

I say “surprisingly” because, although I was hooked into the idea of seeing this movie when I first saw the trailer a number of months ago, I had no idea the film did such bad business when it was released in the USA. Which just goes to show you how wrong the ‘box office’ can be when it comes to judging the art of film for its actual merits because, I have to say, this really does feel like it will quite possibly make my 2019 top ten movies listing.

The film stars Steve Carell, an actor I’m not that impressed with when he does comedy but, if you may remember if you’re a regular reader, I thought he was absolutely brilliant in the one straight role I remember seeing him in, Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World (reviewed by me here). As I’d suspected when I saw the trailer, Carell is absolutely magnificent in this as he plays both Mark Hogencamp and his imaginary alter ego, Captain Hogie, one of the dolls/action figures he works with as an artist. What I didn’t realise is that this is actually a true story. This man really exists and this is his tale...

A tale of a once great illustrator who was viciously attacked one night outside a bar for admitting he likes to strut around in high heel shoes on occasion. The night he had all memories of his former life brutally eaten out of him and, after some intense physiotherapy, barely escaped with his life. What helped him escape was the photography he created of the dolls within the village of Marwen, with which he acted out storylines to get him through the days. He became a well loved local figure and his photography started appearing in art galleries. There was even a documentary film made about him and the actual name of the real model village he made (which I won’t give away here because it becomes a story elevation point in this movie).

In the village of Marwen, in the Second World War, Hogie gets into all kinds of lethal scrapes with perpetually regenerating nazis but, he has the sexy ladies of Marwen, all armed to the teeth, to help him defend the village and attempt to protect those he loves.

And its a wonderful film. Steve Carell, as I said, does an amazing job here and so do his co-stars... Eiza González, Leslie Zemeckis, Merritt Wever, Gwendoline Christie, Stefanie von Pfetten, Janelle Monáe and Leslie Mann as the lovely new neighbour Nicol... as they all transform into animated, miniature action figures of themselves and fight imaginary battles as Hogencamp tries to survive the aftermath of the injuries on his torn apart life.

And, it’s a beautifully made film. Although the premise of characters turning into action figures could be conceived as a premise rife with opportunity for comedy, the film plays things from the heart and captures the drama and sentimentality of the situation instead (that being said, there’s a brilliant line about a ‘milk maid’ losing her cow in some cross fire and being seen to be suffering from ‘cow-lateral damage’). There’s even a character named after Edgar Rice Burroughs’ iconic Barsoomian princess Dejah Thoris, although the doll with this name here is a much more nefarious character and, when Hogencamp builds her a miniature time machine which bears more than a passing resemblance to a certain other film directed by Robert Zemeckis, there’s a nice tribute to the twin fire trails as the vehicle leaps into action. I was surprised, actually, that Alan Silvestri, who provides a heartwarming score here, wasn’t tempted to quote his own score for Back To The Future when this obvious homage occurs in the movie.

The film takes some definitely odd twists and turns in things which are revealed about the central character and the way others react to him and, all I can say is that I suspect this is maybe because the film could be ringing a lot closer to the truth of the actual events than the average docudrama (asides from all the moving action figures, obviously). The ending might be one of the things which turns people off this movie actually but, frankly, I was really pleased with the way this one finishes up and, if you want to read more into the tone of the ending then you always have the earlier scenes where a certain action figure character’s dress pops open to find some kind of closure to the final beats of the film.

And that’s all I have to say about this one. Welcome to Marwen is a truly beautiful film and one I’m glad I’ve had the privilege of seeing on the big screen. I wish it would have been out earlier over here so it could have made my Best Of 2018 list (which you can find here) but I’m glad I finally got to see it. Highly recommended.

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