Welcome to Marwen (2018)
You Can't Put This Hero in a Box
The staggering length of the desired DVD drought continues, and we once again get to be surprised at what shows up in the mail. Tonight is a more serious note - one based on a true story, complete with an actual picture of the person of whom the story is based on as if to say “yeah, we know anyone can use that label, but we actually did find a real story to make visually impressive.” The lead of the trailers is somebody that I’ve grown to expect to be able to do justice to a wide range of rolls, and the trailers showed me that there’s a mix of good old human darkness to this seemingly whimsical world of dolls - but the question remains if it’s drama will be entertaining or just straight up depressing. Find yourself a nice pair of heels and go save a milkmaid, it’s time to look at Welcome To Marwen.
The movie has a pun pretty early on in it, and it’s a doozy of a pun - to which I can appreciate, but it also won’t really hold it’s punches later on when it comes to the actual drama element. The movie is a coin, on one side the serious, dark tone of a hate crime and the other a colorful and often comical world of make believe with nazi-killing femme fatale dolls. Despite the fact the two really don’t seem as though they would be connected in any substantial way, over the course of watching you’ll be apt to find the subtext being spelled out by the various doll segments - which are also arguably the more visually entertaining parts of the otherwise real-world movie. It’s a tightrope of back and forth, and the two play off of each other quite well. Art imitates life, but life imitates art - the old “I’m a smart person too” saying getting shown off in droves really.
When it comes to the drama elements of things, there’s quite a bit to unpack. You have the trauma side of things, you have the being different side of things, you’ve got the romance and the justice and the stress and the depression. There is a lot to it that you could dive into, and if you are the person who likes that kind of thing you’ll be like a pig in the muck - particularly when it’s reinforced as having been based on a true story. I say based in this sort of situation because it’s always appropriate to think that the cinema most likely did a little sprucing up, or some form of slight “adjusting” of the events and story for dramatic effect or watcher enjoyment. Being able to ride along for the various doll segments is probably a prime example of that - although the man the story is based on very well could have been seeing it that way himself, the only real expression of it to others was most likely the pictures he took as opposed to the crazy animated things on display in the movie. Now, if you aren’t a big fan of drama you might not get as much out of the buffet table of elements involved because it’s not your thing - and that’s fine, you could still probably find enjoyment in the base presentation of the elements and other supporting parts. Of course, for a drama to be real effective, there’s something else that needs to be present…
Good actors! Carell is someone that I’ve grown to understand can do a wide variety of roles, from the comedy chops he used to show often to the more serious parts he’s seemingly grown into over time. He sells the trauma well enough without being too over the top about it, but also manages to keep the role human despite anything that is going on - which helps let the drama elements have more impact. The supporting cast, wide and small, do a fine job keeping pace as well, largely all coming off as likeable and wanting to help - outside of the few that are just meant to be buttholes, in which case even with a little backstory in it it doesn’t matter much because a butthole is a butthole and you aren’t gonna sympathize with them unless it’s a dang good reason (which largely there isn’t here). Some of the acting gets brought over into the doll segments as well with line delivery and what looks almost like a blending of some facial capture mixed with doll texture, creating something that’s more expressive than your average doll but also not quite as complex as if a doll were to have completely human features.
Which of course all ties into effects. In the real world, there isn’t much in the line of fancy things to be looking at - it’s a modern movie, so most the outfits are modern. The biggest thing in the real world as far as effects go that isn’t related to a doll is the aftermath of the hate crime - which is done well - or the mild scar left on the main’s face. Past that however, we get to the dolls, and that’s where they really get to have fun and shine. The small costumes, the little set pieces, the poses, even smacking in actual moments of camera-framing to make it feel a solid transition. This is, of course, before we even get to the actual animated moments. Now, the animated moments aren’t going to necessarily convince anyone that it’s spot on real or anything like that, but the charm of it being dolls is that the plastic texture that comes with a lot of CG works amazing at feeling appropriate here. Past that, yeah, you get a few things like a noticeably CG element like a pill and paper (at least for me), but on the flip side of that you also have really nice details in those scenes such as characters reflecting in them when it could have otherwise just been left as a pill or shiny thing. The blending of the faces can be a bit weird at moments, but most the time it looks fine and honestly even when it isn’t the greatest the scenes that play out are still fun.
And of course, whatever action you will end up getting largely plays out on this little battlefield of dolls. It’s actually some pretty cool stuff when it happens, often with a creative idea or two thrown in regardless of how silly the concept starts. For the most part, it’s also easy to say that it’s not just an action scene for the sake of attention spans either - they usually carry with them a reason or logic to the plot as a whole, such as the over-boiling of tensions causing a panic attack, or showing us how the lead is feeling about things around him. It works, it looks fine - sometimes great - and even here we have details that didn’t entirely need to be around that are still entertaining to me, such as the badguys locking up into doll mode when they die, loosing all animation person-styled movement and going back to straight rigid dolls. It’s the little things that don’t necessarily make it good, but really help push it into feeling more loved that it otherwise would.
Audio isn’t bad. Perhaps not as finely balanced at times as some things would be, there was a few times where it could get a bit quiet and I don’t think it was necessarily meant to be that way. I mean, one moment it totally meant to be, so that didn’t bother me, and the longer the movie went on the less I noticed any of the thing sticking out as overtly hard to hear - so really, it’s not a problem at all. The soundtrack isn’t bad, a few boppers in there but nothing that particularly has stuck with me on this night of viewing. Of course, the actors do a great job with their line deliveries, even if they can be a bit stereotypical - which considering I imagine the doll dialogues in the mind of the main probably came from some rather raunchy movies, I feel it’s appropriate even if it’s not a culturally accurate thing any more than the outfits of the dolls. Still, it helps to make each character recognizable either way, even if I’m pretty sure the milkmaid was speaking french instead of whatever she should have been - but hey, if I’m going to fault it for that I’m trying way too hard.
It’s a good little drama. It has plenty of charm with the doll angle, it’s based on a true story and has some good actors floating it. It won’t be everyone’s boat, but it is a good choice for anyone who has at least a passing acceptance of drama and that darker side of humans that it touches on. There’s a few parts in there that feel a little loose or out there, but for the most part it presents it’s tale in a lively way while not removing that human element that makes dramas work.