Based on a true story that was previously related in the 2010 documentary Marwencol, Welcome to Marwen (** out of four) casts Steve Carell as Mark Hogancamp, who was savagely beaten in a hate crime (his crime: wearing women’s shoes) and thereafter stripped of most of his memory. As therapy, he creates a model-size, WWII-era village and populates it with dolls inspired by actual people he has encountered. His alter ego is the heroic Hogie, the women who aid him in real life are all reimagined as sexy freedom fighters, and the bullies are naturally transfigured into Nazis. But Mark often has trouble separating the real world from his fantasy one, particularly when a kindly neighbor named Nicol (Leslie Mann) arrives on the scene.
The CGI employed to bring the action figures to life is astounding, but that’s about the only thing Welcome to Marwen has in its favor. This should be a movie about the transformative and therapeutic powers of art, but writer-director Robert Zemeckis (scripting with Caroline Thompson) instead tries to force the square peg of an unpleasant experience into the round hole of a feel-good endeavor. There’s also a lot of yammering about the goodness and “essence” of women, but it merely comes across as lip service since the women in the story (played by, among others, Janelle Monae and Gwendoline Christie) are only there to circle Mark’s orbit and end up feeling even more plastic than their diminutive counterparts.
An intriguing idea that’s ultimately compromised by an unfocused viewpoint and clumsy interludes (the character of Nicol’s cruel ex-boyfriend feels like an afterthought and could easily have been excised from the final product), Welcome to Marwen brings new meaning to the term “artificial intelligence.” It lunges at profundity but settles for manufactured mawkishness.