An artist creates a fictional World War II town to help with his recovery from a brutal attack in Welcome to Marwen. Mark Hogancamp (Steve Carell) is an artist suffering from severe PTSD following a brutal attack outside a bar, where he was beaten within an inch of his life. As part of his recovery efforts, Mark has created an art installation focusing on life in Belgium town of Marwen during World War II.
In the town, Mark’s avatar Cap’n Hogie interacts with various female soldiers based on the women in his life, including G.I. Julie (Janelle Monáe), Roberta (Merritt Wever), Anna (Gwendoline Christie), Carlala (Eliza Gonzalez), and Suzette (Leslie Zemeckis). Mark becomes smitten with his new neighbor Nicol (Leslie Mann), which influences both his real life and life in Marwen. However, both Mark and Hogie’s happiness is threatened by the highly influential Belgian witch Deja Thoris (Diane Kruger).
Robert Zemeckis directs this film based on the true life events previously shown in the 2010 documentary Marwencol. Zemeckis tells this story by alternating the plot between the fictional town of Marwen and Mark Hogancamp. Motion capture CGI is utilized to turn the film’s stars into living dolls, as we see life in Marwen, which is influenced by Mark’s real life experiences. However, it soon becomes apparent that sometimes Mark has a hard time separating his fictional world from reality, which is made worse by his PTSD and his addiction to anxiety medication.
While I wouldn’t go as far and say that Welcome to Marwen is terrible film, I will say that it is highly problematic how Robert Zemeckis and co-writer Caroline Thompson almost trivializes the real Mark Hogancamp’s mental health issues by focusing a lot more on the fictional world he has created, turning Welcome to Marwen into a pseudo World War II action film, featuring CGI living dolls that gives off an uncanny valley feeling way worse Zemeckis’ previous forays into motion capture filmmaking, such as Polar Express, Beowolf, and A Christmas Carol.
Even though approximately 60% of the story of Welcome to Marwen takes place in this fictional world, it is the 40% in the real world that truly offers some depth to this story. Steve Carell is trying his best to portray Mark Hogancamp as a very damaged man, who is having trouble both piecing his life back together and developing interpersonal connections. Even though it is Leslie Mann that has the higher billing as Mark’s prospective love interest Nicol, I have to say that it is Merritt Wever (Nurse Jackie) who stands out for me in the film as model shop employee Roberta, who is probably one of most supportive people Mark has in his life.
While Welcome to Marwen is not a completely skippable film for me, I do think that people would probably be better off just watching the original documentary.