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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Welcome to Marwen is director Robert Zemeckis' fact-based drama about a man named Mark Hogancamp (Steve Carell) who recovers from trauma by creating a miniature world populated by dolls. Viewers see the trauma -- a terrible beating -- in brief flashbacks; a couple of upsetting scenes show Mark being kicked and pummeled. Otherwise, violence largely takes the form of bloody battles between the dolls in Mark's miniature town -- they can be a bit gruesome, albeit played for humor. Dolls riddle other dolls with machine gun fire, Molotov cocktails crisp doll bodies, and a doll falls out of a high tower and his body splits in two. There's some doll nudity, too, with a topless (but also nipple-less) female doll shown fighting and running. Another topless woman is seen in some of Mark's illustrations. Alcohol played a part in Mark's attack, so he hasn't had any since, but he is fighting an addiction to anti-anxiety medications, and he smokes cigarettes. Infrequent swearing includes "s--t," "goddamn," "hell," and insults such as "kraut," "queer," "filthy scum," and "fat ass." The female characters come across as having no feelings or opinions that don't hinge on Mark and his life. But courage, perseverance, and emotional growth are clear themes of the film.
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What's the story?
Based on the true story of a man who learned to cope with terrible trauma through the power of art and imagination, WELCOME TO MARWEN tells the tale of Mark Hogancamp (Steve Carell), a man who recovers from a terrible beating by creating a world of his own. Before he was attacked by five men outside a bar, Mark was a talented illustrator with a decent life. After the beating, he was left barely able to walk, talk, hold a pencil, or remember much of anything about his past. By creating and photographing a WWII-era town peopled by tiny versions of himself and the people in his life, Mark learns how to take control of his life again -- and tries to work up the courage to face his attackers in court.
Is it any good?
With a fragile beauty and sweetness that's marred by a slight story and underdeveloped characters, this redemption fable is heartwarming but ultimately too insubstantial to pack a major punch. Carell, always a pro at finding the humanity in imperfect characters, is as reliably lovable as ever, and Hogancamp's story is a stunner that's particularly well-suited for cinema (it was previously explored in the documentary Marwencol). The film's opening, which drops viewers into Marwen's doll-sized world, is simply enchanting. But the more time we spend in Marwen, the less we like it. Mark spins out simple battle scenarios with his dolls, and the many pow-pow-pow scenes between heroes and villains grow wearying; they start to feel like they're simply there to pad out the film's running time.
A better solution would have been to widen the film's focus and flesh out some of the side characters. The Marwen doll cast is largely female, with many based on women in Mark's life: the bartender who discovered him after his vicious beating (voiced by Stefanie von Pfetten), the therapist who helped him walk again (Janelle Monae), the next-door neighbor on whom he nurses a crush (Leslie Mann). But our view of them is limited only to what they can do or have done for Mark: Just about every line spoken by a female character is about Mark in some way. They seem content merely to worry about and discuss his life and don't seem to have feelings, opinions, or a life of their own. The film clearly sees something sweet in Mark's affinity for women; he views his penchant for cross-dressing as an attempt to connect with the "essence" of womanhood and at one point even screams out that "women are the saviors of the world!" It's a telling line, and a frustrating one, because even if he sees the women of this movie as revered objects, they're still objects. And in a movie about redemption and humanity, extending generosity to just one character blunts the impact of its messages, making Welcome to Marwen more of a treat for the eyes than the heart.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the main idea of Welcome to Marwen: that art and creativity can help heal trauma and connect people. Do you agree? Does art play a role in your life? If so, what? Is it easier to express your emotions creatively than by simply talking? Why or why not?
Find out a little about the real Mark Hogancamp's life. Is his story more compelling because it's true? Or does the biographical nature of the movie limit its story? How accurate do you think the movie is to what happened?
- In theaters: December 21, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: April 9, 2019
- Cast: Steve Carell, Diane Kruger, Leslie Mann
- Director: Robert Zemeckis
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Character strengths: Courage, Perseverance
- Run time: 116 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: sequences of fantasy violence, some disturbing images, brief suggestive content, thematic material and language
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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