Inspired by Jeff Malmberg’s fantastic 2010 documentary “Marwencol”, director and co-writer Robert Zemeckis sets out to dramatize the incredible true story of Mark Hogancamp. It’s unquestionably a worthwhile story which Malmberg’s film told well. Zemeckis takes a hearty swing at it but ends up with a pretty big whiff.
In 2000 Hogancamp was attacked by five men outside of a Kingston, NY bar. He was beaten within an inch of his life and would spend nine days in a coma. Hogancamp suffered brain damage and severe memory loss. With no means of paying for therapy he lived out a second life within a meticulously crafted miniature town he built modeled after a World War II Belgian village. Within his town of Marwen resides dolls representing those who have influenced his life both for good and bad.
Zemeckis drops us right into Hogancamp’s therapeutic fantasy. Steve Carell stars as both Hogancamp and as Hoagie, Mark’s war hero avatar in Marwen. The two-sided story bounces back-and-forth between his battle to overcome his real world anxieties and the CGI animated Marwen where the dolls come to life and tell stories that mirror his struggles. Problem is neither side is truly fleshed out or given the attention it desperately needs.
The events that led to his state are only covered through flashbacks, newspaper clippings, or gleaned from casual conversations. Instead Zemeckis concentrates on a mundane series of days leading up to the sentencing hearing for Hogancamp’s attackers. Along the way we bump into an assortment of people from his life, several of whom makeup his ‘women of Marwen’. All of them feel brushed over with hardly an ounce of depth. Leslie Mann is the one exception playing a new neighbor. But even she is paper-thin and you know exactly where her story is going.
The animation sequences are cool visually but are often at odds with the other scenes. Zemeckis doesn’t seem to have a grasp of the overall tone he is going for. While these scenes do reflect (to varying degrees) the inner pain and turmoil Hogancamp struggles with, they are often too silly to carry any emotional weight. And too often they rob the other scenes by popping up time the movie could have invested into the real-world story.
Overall “Welcome to Marwen” is a frustrating (and frankly boring) mess. It’s a case of Zemeckis locking into a good concept but not having the clear-eyed vision to see it through. He gets so bogged down in his fictional additions to Mark Hogancamp’s account that he misses what made this strange, heart-tugging story so compelling. Carell certainly gives it his all, but even his good performance couldn’t keep me from constantly checking my watch.
VERDICT – 2 STARS