Though flawed, Welcome to Marwen is a creative, resourceful piece of storytelling from the venerable filmmaker Robert Zemeckis, that, above anything else, is a true celebration of our individuality. It’s a film that doesn’t judge, to explore a protagonist who has his own quirks and sensibilities, and allows us to sit back and appreciate him for who he is – which isn’t actually something we see an awful lot of in contemporary cinema.
In a modern climate, we’re becoming more conscious on the notion of identity, and allowing people to express themselves, and identify themselves in whichever way they deem fit, whatever makes them comfortable. As society progresses, inclusivity is a vital component, which is makes the story of Mark Hogancamp such a profound and pertinent one. For this is a true story of a man who was attacked for being himself, beaten up within an inch of his life simply because he told strangers in a bar about his inclination to wear women’s clothes.
Brought to life with an impressive conviction by Steve Carell, this is a role that is so easy to label and to demonise. Hogancamp collects women’s shoes. He spends his days playing with a collection of dolls, in a fictional world he has created. He watches soft-core porn at home, on his own, and of course, he wears women’s clothes. But these things make him happy, and if he’s not hurting anyone, why should we care how he chooses to life his life?
This is a positive thing to promote through the medium of cinema, to enforce these messages and present a character of this nature without passing any judgement, allowing us to find the human within, and discover he’s just like you or I – something that many out there are too ignorant to try and do. Though not without its issues, it makes this film an important one, that we should be celebrating. For this is seldom seen in Hollywood, we don’t tend to immerse ourselves in the lives of people of this nature, people many would disregard in the real world. For a supposedly progressive industry, when it comes to lead roles in movie, they often remain unblemished, they remain, for use of a better word, ‘normal’ – and this is something we hope will change with time.
Of course that’s not a rule of thumb, in recent months we had the film Freak Show, by Trudie Styler, starring Alex Lawther, which delved into the life of a teenager experimenting with his identity. Sean Penn starred in This Must Be The Place by Paolo Sorrentino, while the Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language film just this year, was won by A Fantastic Woman. There was also The New Girlfriend By Francois Ozon in recent memory – of a widow who started wearing his wife’s clothes after she died. But note all three filmmakers here are European, and perhaps it’s in more mainstream, American endeavours where this change needs to be made. Even recently in Mortal Engines there was controversy as the lead character of Hester Shaw, in the novels, had a facial deformation, whereas in the movie they gave the actress playing her, Hera Hilmar, just a small scar – as though too afraid to allow for the lead role in a blockbuster franchise to look different – yet we should embrace our quirks and idiosyncrasies, both in personality and appearance.
There is the occasional exception in Hollywood, there’s The Birdcage starring Robin Williams, or Kinky Boots too. But with cross-dressing in Hollywood often the man indulging in the activity clings on to his masculinity, exploiting the situation for his personal gain, as opposed to a mere personal preference. Like with Tootsie starring Dustin Hoffman, or in Some Like It Hot with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon.
On Welcome to Marwen, director Zemeckis told HeyUGuys, “The film celebrates everyone’s humanness. Everybody is human and everybody has their own form of expression and I think we’re too quick to judge people, wanting them to conform, wanting to put them in some sort of box and label them, and this film speaks to that”.
He’s right, and on a similar note, Leslie Mann, the supporting lead in the film – Mark’s neighbour and sort-of-love-interest, said this: “I think we all have our quirks, we all do, even though we all try and pretend to be super normal, we’re not.” And she’s right, None of us are normal, so why should we pretend to be on screen?