This new ambitious, melodramatically inert Robert Zemeckis film (his last was 2016s old-fashioned romance/espionage Allied) is drawn from a 2010 documentary where a vicious hate crime occurring outside a bar left Kingston, NY’s Mark Hogancamp in a comatose, and later amnesic condition. In putting together the pieces of his existence a doll-size World War II Belgian hamlet called Marwencol (the name of the non-fiction feature) would be constructed and photographed the accounts which would included valiant Belgian ladies and Allied servicemen, as well as occasional storming by perilous Nazis.
Welcome to Marwen is a discordant folly from the maker of The Polar Express, Beowulf, and A Christmas Carol using similar, more enhanced motion-capture techniques in realizing how Hogancamp dealt with his post-traumatic stress (as a result of his affection towards the distaff population — their essence — and their footwear). Steve Carell (who’s been in films from Anchorman and Evan Almighty to Foxcatcher and Dan In Real Life) isn’t really equipped to handle the freaky sentiment that pervades the reality and imagination where he’s ‘Hoagie,’ an Army Air Corps fighter pilot. Even if he appears to be nearing his empathetic best as Mark and better as Hoagie to render a life-affirming sweep with heart.
Plastic models of women in Mark’s milieu provide an early allure. They include a physical therapist (Janelle Monae of Hidden Figures and Moonlight), a Russian home nurse (Gwendoline Christie), and new, caring next-door neighbor Nicol (Leslie Mann). Mark’s former companion, Wendy, helps provide the village name, in shortened, titular form.
Zemeckis and his co-writer Caroline Thompson (City of Ember, Corpse Bride) put Carell in situational bombast where addiction, loneliness, hallucinations have a kind of figurine representation that is unsubtle and often exasperating in its effect. What is finally meant to be poignant may elicit the opposite in a late scene where a quartet of assailants in court for their sentencing are met by Barbie-like dolls (sorry, action figures) arriving by jeep. Audiences may have a similar feeling of being at sea like the attractive red-headed Nicol, with her character traits like the other women hardly shaded at all. That includes the wily, witchy interloper (Diane Kruger) on board to raise anxiety levels.
Maybe the chance to go deeper within Hogancamp wasn’t in the cards or scaled back to only be affecting when his real and made-up self put on pumps. It seemed that Welcome to Marwen needed to attract interest or attention in its computer-generated and animated pizzazz where movie magic like Vertigo and the director’s proficient pop-confection Back To The Future are referenced (the latter in a flaming time-machine). It’s not particularly a crime what is done here in what is so much more encumbering than involving. Carell may not admit to it but he probably heard plenty of whispers in his ear that kept him from being on the mark and dropping to the floor with his devastated, if resilient Hogancamp.