Inspired by the true story of Mark Hogancamp who, having suffered a horrific attack, finds solace and support in an elaborate fantasy art installation, Robert Zemeckis sets out to convey a poignant story of the healing power of art and the dangers of the artist becoming too enraptured by the art itself but never once realised that he’s fallen victim to the exact same thing as the protagonist of this always watchable if somewhat disjointed dramedy.
The gradual toyification of the opening sequence is tremendously effective but as with much of Zemeckis’ recent output, the longer it goes on, the more the technical wizardry becomes the foreground focus rather than the unobtrusive background to the compelling story. Not content with creating animated horrors from an eldritch uncanny valley in “The Polar Express” and “A Christmas Carol”, Zemeckis brings his technophilia to bear on live-action stars with varying degrees of success.
“Welcome To Marwen” is an odd sort of movie, never quite sure of what its meant to be from one moment to the next. While we eventually get to piece together what actually happened to Mark Hogancamp, there’s an attempt to nest the story in various layers of fantasy and flashback which isn’t entirely successful, leaving a muddled sort of viewing experience. As a result, the performances of the cast are likewise jumbled and uneven – even though Carell and the rest of the eclectic cast do some terrific work – adding to far less than the sum of its parts. Maudlin when it should be moving and unintentionally funny when it should be stirring, “Welcome To Marwen” feels like an esoteric companion piece to “Small Soldiers” rather than the whimsical and inspirational biopic it wants to be.
It’s hard to shake the feeling that Zemeckis’ only interest here was as a technical exercise in special effects and motion capture. You’re never not aware of the digital wizardry at work but it comes at the expense of verisimilitude, preventing the emotional core of the story from really hitting home. It’s a film about a man healing from trauma through art that’s all too interested in the art and barely concerned with the man at all.