Robert Zemeckis is one of our greatest sentimental storytellers. His collection of movies aren’t always good, but they’re consistently filled with inventiveness, inspiration, and vision. The Back to the Future and Forrest Gump filmmaker, however, has produced mixed results throughout this past decade. The Walk was a charming, if sadly underseen and forgotten, treat. Likewise, Flight was another powerful showcase of Denzel Washington’s talent, told with wondrous visual flair and pulsating passion. But 2009’s A Christmas Carol was an underwhelming attempt to revive a literary classic with uneven results, and Allied was a snoozer that tried to capture the zest of Casablanca without the same intrigue, despite another stellar performance from Marion Cotillard.
His latest film, Welcome to Marwen, contains the potential for greatness, as well as the possibility of being another misfire.
Based on the true story of artist and photographer Mark Hogancamp, the subject of the 2010 documentary Marwencol, Welcome to Marwen centers around Hogancamp (Steve Carrell) and his attempt to recover from a traumatic violent assault during World War II. Through the construction of a miniature WWII village, the trailer shows Hogancamp trying to reconcile the ordeal through living in the miniature world of his own creation, depicted through stop-motion animated CG. The result, as seen in this trailer, is a bit jarring, and it’s hard to tell if it’ll work or not.
There’s no sense sugarcoating it: Welcome to Marwen looks…odd. The mix of serious real-life drama and its playful, walking-and-talking CG toys seems like an unusual mix, and there’s a chance Zemeckis might be making something very internalized and meditative into something too broad and slightly fantastical. Imagine if Born on the Fourth of July had interludes in the vein of Toy Story. That’s basically what you’re getting in this very, very strange teaser. The trailer isn’t subtle by any means, with the song in the background loudly saying, “Learning to walk again!” just when Carrell’s character is, indeed, learning to walk again. But Robert Zemeckis was never a subtle filmmaker. He tends to play his films in a very conventional fashion, but in this specific case, that approach — mixed with the expensive CG — might backfire exceptionally. This story probably wasn’t meant to be a big blockbuster.
Also starring Leslie Mann, Diane Kruger, and the great Janelle Monae, Welcome to Marwen could easily be another win for Zemeckis, or just another miss. Based on this unusual and poorly constructed trailer, it’s looking like the latter. But it’s entirely possible this teaser isn’t selling the film properly. After all, it’s not an easy sell, and the marketing team obviously wants to focus on the whimsical aspects of the plot because they’ll likely be easier for wide audiences to digest. Yet there’s the potential danger of playing too cutesy with very real, very serious real-life issues, and Marwen could inadvertently prove itself to be unintentionally offensive as a result.
We’ll have to see it for ourselves when Welcome to Marwen enters theaters on November 21st. Expect a big awards push.
Check out the trailer below.