Steve Carell plays real life Mark Hogancamp, a man who channels his trauma through his art. After a horrific beating leaves him with a traumatic brain injury and severe memory loss, Mark starts to create a new world, Marwen, which he fills with dolls that represent the women who’ve brought him back to life. And at the centre of this world is Cap’n Hogie, a World War Two soldier who’s brave and fearless and out to defeat the Nazis – and everything he wishes he could be.
Robert Zemeckis’s film jumps brilliantly between reality and the world of Marwen and the effects used are just gorgeous, bring real depth to the dolls as they are played so well by their human counterparts. When it really shines, though, is when something in the real world triggers a retreat for Mark into his fictional one. The trauma he suffers is always lurking in the background but when it all gets too much and he retreats into Marwen you can really see the severity of it.
Unfortunately, the rest of the film is not as impressive. For a film so focused on how amazing these women have been to him in his life, we see very little of them. By staying too long in Marwen we don’t get to see the real women, only the fictionalised versions of them. Janelle Monáe and Gwendoline Christie, in particular, are horrendously underused, though what they do bring to their respective dolls is brilliant.
Merritt Wever’s Roberta gets a little more time. She is a calm and reliable presence in the film and in Mark’s life, gently pushing him to face his demons and stand up in court to his attackers.
Despite the many areas it could have focused on, Welcome to Marwen’s focus lies more with the arrival of new neighbour Nicol (Leslie Mann). Though this story is an interesting one, as it acts as something of a catalyst to what comes next, it would have been more interesting to see more of Mark’s past relationships as they inform who he has become now so much more.
Welcome to Marwen has some really emotional moments and Carell does superb work as usual. Yet the film is ultimately unsatisfying, leaving questions unanswered and key points unexplored.