Based on the 2010 documentary Marwencol, Welcome to Marwen follows Steve Carell’s Mark Hogancamp as he copes with a horrific hate crime by creating a small village populated by dolls representing heroic versions of himself and his various friends. Filmmaker Robert Zemeckis, working from a screenplay written with Caroline Thompson, establishes Welcome to Marwen‘s decidedly oddball atmosphere right from the get-go, as the picture opens with a long, animated sequence designed to introduce Mark’s action figure doppelgangers and the imaginary world into which the protagonist continually places them – with the movie, past that point, awkwardly moving between those less-than-subtle sequences and Mark’s troubled real-world exploits (including his fledgling friendship with Leslie Mann’s pretty new neighbor). It’s an interesting approach that doesn’t always work, to be sure, as the wildly-shifting tone does tend to diminish the impact of the story’s more low-key and emotionally-charged moments – although, by that same token, there’s little doubt that the non-animated stuff, which benefits heavily from Carell’s striking performance, does begin to grow more and more resonant as the various pieces begin to fall into place (ie once it becomes clear just what happened to Mark). The end result is a deeply weird piece of work that isn’t always successful but is certainly never boring, which is certainly an improvement over the somewhat generic nature of Zemeckis’ last few movies (and you’ve just got to love the extended Back to the Future reference within the film’s third act).
*** out of ****