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With most movies, even the bad ones, you can imagine the elevator pitch that got them green-lit. Mortal Engines: It’s Mad Max for The Hunger Games set (and for the people who go to steampunk conventions); Holmes & Watson: It’s Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly doing accents; Bird Box: It’s A Quiet Place. But there’s one movie this holiday season that, for the life of me, I cannot match with a plausible pitch: Welcome to Marwen, a half-live-action, half-animated adaptation of a little-known documentary, about a man (Steve Carell) who copes with a traumatic assault by building a World War II–era town using figurines. The real-life story is fascinating — hence the documentary — but the execution of Welcome to Marwen, the fact that you see this guy …
… about as much as you see the actual Carell, really makes you wonder. (Shockingly, Welcome to Marwen may be the biggest flop of 2018.) Who was this movie for? Who thought this was a good idea? While we’re asking questions, I have a few (“few”) more that I wrote down while watching Welcome to Marwen on opening night.1. It’s bad that I’m one of four people in this theater, right?
2. What sequence of events led these three other people to buy a ticket? I was goaded into seeing Welcome to Marwen by this great website (though, when Don Draper yelled “That’s what the money’s for!” I never quite imagined the next line would be: “To go see CGI Steve Carell!”); isn’t there a Christmas party they could have gone to instead? Or a cliff they could have thrown $15 off of?
3. Is it bad that the trailers playing ahead of Welcome to Marwen are all over the place? Generally, trailers mimic what’s to come, which makes sense: People paying for Aquaman probably want to see more superheroes, and people paying for The Favourite probably want to see more Oscar hopefuls. But ahead of Welcome to Marwen, there was a trailer for a Christian movie called Breakthrough, for Destroyer, for the Kevin Hart–Bryan Cranston feel-good comedy The Upside, for the Liam Neeson snowplow action movie, for the Rebel Wilson meta-rom-com, for the Downton Abbey movie, and for the new M. Night Shyamalan movie. This suggests that literally no one — not even studios — knows who this movie is for.
4. Welcome to Marwen opens as an animated movie. Why has Robert Zemeckis fallen in love with the uncanny valley? Let’s take a look at four of his most recent movies:5. Was there a moment during the production of Flight when Zemeckis was like, “All right, great, now we just need to animate Denzel crashing this plane”?
6. Why, after nearly a decade of laying off the weird CGI, did Zemeckis come back?
7. And who let him?!
8. Why does Leslie Mann’s character own only summer dresses?9. My biggest question heading into this movie was: How would they handle the women’s shoes stuff? Some background: A big part of the documentary Marwencol is about Mark Hogancamp’s love of women’s shoes, and how the obsession defined who he was, before and after he was brutally beaten. One of my lasting memories of the movie is Hogancamp wearing oxfords in New York City and bemoaning, “Fuckin’ man shoes.” The trailers for Welcome to Marwen, though, are, perhaps unsurprisingly, extremely light on this subject; the only hint of it comes in a couple blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shots of Doll Steve Carell wearing high heels. It’s more than a little shocking, then, that the actual movie leans VERY HARD INTO THE WOMEN’S SHOES STUFF. Doll Steve Carell puts on a pair of high heels in the first two minutes of the movie; a woman gives Real Steve Carell a pair of espadrilles in an early scene; later on in the movie, Doll Steve Carell tells Doll Leslie Mann that, “I like wearing women’s shoes because they make me feel closer to the essence of dames — and I. LOVE. DAMES.”
10. This is all fine, but can you imagine how blindsided people who saw Welcome to Marwen without first seeing Marwencol were?
11. What’s going on with Steve Carell’s necklace?It’s shaping up to be a pretty bleak holiday season for Steve Carell and Robert Zemeckis after “Welcome to Marwen” flopped last weekend in spectacular fashion. The $40 million drama about a man’s attempts to overcome his PTSD is one of the biggest bombs of the year, debuting to a disastrous $2.4 million from 1,191 theaters. It stands to lose between $45 million to $50 million when marketing and distribution costs are taken into account, according to rival studio executives, an embarrassing result for both Carell and Zemeckis.
“Welcome to Marwen” is also the worst wide-release major studio debut of 2018 — tying with Johnny Knoxville’s dud “Action Point” for that ignominious distinction — and a career-worst wide-release start for the A-list actor and the director. Compounding the pervasive air of disaster, “Welcome to Marwen” is the second big turkey for Universal Studios in as many weeks. The studio also stands to lose $125 million-plus on “Mortal Engines,” a Peter Jackson fantasy that has grossed an anemic $54.3 million globally.