Tag Archives: Leslie Mann

Movie Review: Welcome to Marwen

It’s taken a long time to find the perfect dramatic role for Steve Carell, but this is it. Playing real-life comic book artist Mark Hogancamp dealing with the trauma of a vicious hate crime that left him with brain damage so severe he is unable to draw, Carell brings a heart and comedy to what might otherwise be an incredibly bleak and depressing film.

Welcome to Marwen mixes live action realism with a Secret Life of Walter Mitty-esque fantasy life where the poseable action figures and dolls he uses in his photographs come to life and act out the inner feelings of his mind. Their setting is the fictional town of Marwen, a Belgian villa in World War II, under seige by Nazis who no matter how many times they kill them, they always come back.

The city is guarded by “Hoagie,” an American pilot who is an avatar for Carell, and a cadre of powerful women who represent the real-life women around him. They’re also besieged by a witch, another manifestation of Mark’s psyche, intent on destroying Hoagie’s happiness.

The best thing about this film is the true to life feeling of the animated action figures. Using highly detailed motion-capture similar to what director Robert Zemeckis previously used in The Polar Express and A Christmas Carol, the Uncanny-Valley-ness of that technology goes away because they are mapped to action figures rather than real people. The resulting animation is like watching a heartfelt, lifelike Robot Chicken.

It’s good that those portions of the film are so light, funny, sometimes over-the-top violent, and entertaining, because the rest of the story is rather bleak and sad. 

The only real complaint with the film is its lack of a seemingly broader message. While we feel a lot of things, we’re not necessarily left with any sense of what that means. Not every film needs to have a meaning, but it feels like this film should maybe have had one. It’s fine as just a nice character study and fun use of visual effects, but that’s all it ends up being. It just feels like it’s missing something and that leave it on only the cusp of greatness.

The film also has some problematic depictions of its female characters. While they are numerous and diverse, all of them only have an existence around Mark and his trauma. It’s like it would almost pass the Bechdel test, except that every conversation is literally about him. The point of this film is not necessarily to be about the agency and lives of other women, but it is still almost 100% focused on only its singular character.

It feels like somewhat of a waste of people like Janelle Monae to show up and only deliver a few lines in service of a white man’s trauma. Leslie Mann is also incredibly good as his across the street neighbor Nicol. Mann, like Carell, is able to work both the comedy and serious sides of the film to an incredible degree. It is one of the best performances of her career.

But this falls short– when you have other incredibly female forward films in theaters right now like Widows or The Favourite, despite being focused on female leads, they do not present their male co-stars with such short shrift.

Hogancamp is a very broken person still dealing with his trauma. So much of this film is working out his post-traumatic stress and trying to find a normal existence. It’s very heartwarming but also very sad depiction what trauma does to people.

We’re very lucky to have this film so beautifully rendered and have Hoagie looking out for us as a testament to survival.

3 out of 5 stars

PS – There is also a documentary Marwencol that also tells the true story of Mark Hogancamp from 2010. It is available to watch on iTunes and Kanopy, which allows you to stream films through your local library.

Movie Review: Blockers

blockers posterEven while being a tad predictable, Blockers manages to subvert many of the tropes of the teen sex comedy genre and provide some refreshing social commentary on the sexual politics of 2018.

Parents played by Leslie Mann, John Cena, and Ike Barinholtz stumble upon their daughters’ group text messages promising to lose their virginity on prom night and decide they have to put a stop to it. And wackiness ensues. Sounds pretty basic, right? Except director Kay Cannon (Pitch Perfect, 30 Rock) brings a sardonic social commentary that sets it apart from its peers.

By focusing on characters and motivations, the film transcends its otherwise formulaic plot and gags. Both Mann and Cena have to confront their own internalized patriarchy, gender roles and sex-negative attitudes, but they’re both coming at this from very different places. Even better, both show depth as actors, not just comedic performers, and provide good ways “in” for the audience.

Mann’s overactive busybody mom is a great feminist — except when it comes to letting her own daughter make her own decisions. So, in reality, she’s a bad feminist.

Cena’s sensitive, supporting dad is a textbook example of alternative, non-toxic masculinity — until he isn’t, and wants to throw his daughter’s prom date through a wall.

In one of the best scenes of the film, Cena’s wife, played by Sarayu Blue, calls them both out for their ridiculous behavior and hypocrisy. They don’t get it, but hopefully we do.

In a surprising turn, Barinholtz provides the most interesting character arc, as his motivations for stopping his daughter are due to (spoiler alert? not exactly) the fact that he knows she is gay, even if she doesn’t yet. As the screw-up in the troika of main adult characters, it’s surprising that he is the one with the clearest and most defensible motivation.

The actual standout performance of the film, however, comes from Geraldine Viswanathan, who plays Kayla, one of the three girls. She is a star in the making, and it’s unfortunate Marvel can’t snatch her up and speed a Kamala Khan / Ms. Marvel film into production.

It would also be remiss to not mention amazing appearances by Gary Cole and Gina Gershon. Spoiler alert: nudity. Lots and lots of nude Gary Cole. Good for you, Gary!

While this film has a lot of laughs, it’s also a bit longer than it needs to be. And despite its social message, it really is just a teen sex comedy. But if you’re looking for some cringeworthy laughs and lots and lots of mens’ butts, you might enjoy Blockers.

3 out of 5 stars