Zach Gilbert’s review published on Letterboxd:
It really pains me to say this (as a long time fan of both director Robert Zemeckis and lead star Steve Carell) but Welcome to Marwen is an underdeveloped, unsettling mess full of grating characterizations and manipulative schmaltz.
Carell tried his best with a complicated role (further undercut by a woeful screenplay), but rather than evoking sympathy from the audience, his performance is considerably uncomfortable. The hate crime Mark endured isn’t near as fleshed out as it could’ve been, and the exact reasoning for the attack (related to a subversive “passion” of Mark’s) isn’t fully articulated. It’s hard not to feel for the pain he suffered, but the film really stumbles in its attempt to establish these storylines.
While Welcome to Marwen additionally attempts to “empower women”, it falls frustratingly flat in this regard as well. Absolutely NONE of the “women of Marwen” are allowed any sort of depth or character development whatsoever. Janelle Monáe’s Julie and Gwendoline Christie’s Anna only have one scene each in “human form”, which renders their significance and impact in “doll form” utterly meaningless. Likewise, Eiza González’s Caralala may have 1-2 more scenes than the two aforementioned actresses, but we learn absolutely nothing about her personality or her importance in Mark’s life whatsoever even with the additional screentime. And don’t even get me started on the doll in Marwen inspired by Mark’s favorite porn actress. Merritt Wever and Leslie Mann receive the most attention in the supporting cast, as a worker at a hobby shop Mark frequents and a new neighbor that Mark falls for respectively, but both are still nothing more than broad caricatures of a “supportive female friend” and a “doting adorable neighbor”. Diane Kruger plays the “Beligian Witch of Marwen” and that character works about as well as you’d expect (and the greater metaphor for her existence is eye-rollingly predictable and on the nose). Frankly, the film absolutely butchers its attempts to represent the strengths of females.
The visual effects are indeed somewhat impressive (if a tad creepy), as this is Robert Zemeckis’ wheelhouse. But there are far too many doll scenes that play out in an incredibly repetitive manner and don’t add as much insight into Mark’s mental strife as they think they do. Meanwhile, both the bombast and the cacophony from the doll sequences start to seep into Mark’s real life as well, eliminating the quieter contemplation of earlier scenes and replacing it with overblown displays of Mark’s grief that border on parody. Overall, the entire plot is handled in the most unsubtle manner possible, robbing an authentically poignant true story of the influence it may have otherwise had.
By far and away, Welcome to Marwen is one of the worst theater experiences I’ve had in 2018 (and that’s without even mentioning a scene between Carell and Mann that was *so* awkward and painful to sit through that I had to look away from the screen), and it’s a resounding disappointment for everyone involved.