Welcome to Marwen is a special effects laden film-within-a-film about a wounded man who's lost all his memories, while recovering from a tragic assault. To cope, he creates a village called Marwen outside his trailer in New York, where he photographs and films a WWII-hero version of himself. Along with some heavily armed, yet scantily clad female companions, they battle an endless supply of Nazis. That may sound as disjointed as the film feels, but surprisingly, it's based on a true story.
Steve Carell (The Office, The 40-Year-Old Virgin,) stars as Mark Hogancamp, the victim of a brutal attack outside a nightclub in New York. Perhaps the most shining scenes in the movie are Hogancamp's simple and steadfast methods of carrying-on, despite his newfound limitations. The emotional diversity of a somewhat shallow character brings back fond memories of Michael from The Office, reflected here in Hogancamp.
Leslie Mann (Knocked Up, The 40 Year-Old Virgin,) plays Hogancamp's new neighbor, who is a little disturbed to discover that he quickly fashions a doll likeness of her for his own doll likeness named Cap'n Hogie to fall in love with. It's tough that the script doesn't give her much to work with, but she blends just the right amount of charm as she tries to come to grips with Hogancamp's affection for her.
Directed by comic film legend Robert Zemeckis (Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump,) who is known for creating a blend of animation and real life, you might be tempted to go into Welcome to Marwen thinking it's a comedy. This is especially true since comedians Carell and Mann are cast as leads, and since it's based on a grown man who plays with dolls.
It really feels like Zemeckis, who co-wrote the film with Caroline Thompson (Edward Scissorhands,) interviewed himself on what would make an interesting movie, rather than sit down with the real life human that it's based on. While Welcome to Marwen is beautifully shot and animated, and the acting is spot-on, it seems like the spine branched out in too many directions at once, and then never formed a heart.
The most disturbing thing about Welcome to Marwen is that it feels like an honest attempt to portray the man to whom this story actually happened but comes off making him seem creepy. The more whimsical moments poke fun of his cross-dressing, and his feminism despite sexualizing his dolls that are often based on real women in his life. A few lines and scenes could have been changed to make this film a psychological thriller, or even a horror movie.
Ultimately, multiplex theatergoers may have a hard time picking out what they like about Welcome to Marwen - if anything - while cinephiles won't be impressed by the pretty animation, or sappy sweetness layered over the pain to make it palatable. Sadly, Steve Carell fans will also be sorely disappointed for laughs, despite his heartfelt, honest take on the character.