By Daniel Paiz
This time of year might be a bit of a lull in the movie industry due to awards season approaching and the holiday season fading. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some sleepers out there worth checking out.
For example, I enjoyed “Welcome to Marwen”.
The journey Mark Hogancamp (Steve Carell) has to go through is tough. The various forms of anguish and regret he deals with pulls at the heartstrings. The supporting cast also does an amicable job of supporting Mark through his journey.
There are some issues as well, including the downplaying of why Mark’s brutally assaulted, and the line that’s tested throughout.
Why you will probably like this film
Besides Steve Carell’s solid work portraying Mark Hogancamp, the surrounding cast is vital to this story.
Anna (Gwendoline Christie), Carlala (Eiza González), GI Julie (Janelle Monáe), and Nichol (Leslie Mann) all play particular roles that offer pieces of insight that guide Mark to recovery. Nichol plays the largest role in this group as a possible romantic interest, and the character that grabs the most spotlight in Marwen itself.
Speaking of Marwen, this place is remarkable. It’s a town set in World War II-era Belgium, where all of his friends from real life are “dames” who protect Mark from the frequent attacks of Nazis; yes, there are Nazis in this film, luckily only of the doll variety.
This place is how he copes with the stress of being beaten within an inch of his life; that beating has erased all personal memories he has prior to the attack.
Finally there are the two most important characters to Mark’s growth or regression, depending on the day: Roberta (Merritt Wever) and Deja Thoris (Diane Kruger).
Roberta is the hobby shop proprietor that clearly cares about how Mark is doing, and does what she can to help. Deja exists exclusively within Marwen due to Mark’s inability to come to terms with the dark crutch he continues to lean on.
What might rub you the wrong way
The whole reason Mark is beaten is he’s accused of wearing women’s clothing, and makes no effort to deny it to the five thugs who then beat him up outside the bar. Couple this together with the fact that the leader of the group has a swastika tattoo on his arm, and that beating is now a hate crime.
Mark wears women’s shoes infrequently in the film to show this is how Mark connects to a women’s “essence”. That plus calling his protective co-stars “dames” in Marwen begins to reveal an odd line of creepiness forming.
It’s doesn’t feel that Mark is being outright creepy, it’s just that his connection to women, while harmless, questions where the line is between creepy and endearing.
Another issue with this is that one of the dolls in Marwen is based on of an adult film actress in real life who is given no background story.
Unless Suzette (Leslie Zemeckis) was largely included in the 2010 documentary “Marwenchol”, frankly she seems like a pointless character. One could argue she’s there to reinforce his sexualized naivety with women, but that’s about it.
The final verdict
Mark’s relationship with women is complex because they have guided his recovery and help him rebuild his humanity. However, perhaps due to the beating or due to the failings of his life prior to it (he drank heavily and had a failed marriage), there is that slight awkwardness of how he treats those closest to him.
Despite that, this is a story that tackles what post-traumatic stress is caused by defying societal expectations. The real Mark Hogancamp simply enjoyed wearing women’s shoes, and creating World War II artwork.
The loss of human dignity and the pain Hogancamp feels from trying to heal from this inexcusable act is what shines through this film.
You can dislike certain scenes or the underdevelopment of the supporting roles, but if you’re like me, you felt Mark’s anguish in some way. I empathize with Mark’s struggle and his long road to getting back to doing what he loves.
If you can too, then you’ll probably enjoy this film.