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‘Welcome to Marwen’ is an odd, sweet story (review)

December 21, 2018

‘Welcome to Marwen’ is an odd, sweet story (review)

CLEVELAND, Ohio – There is a theory among critics that some directors tend to make the same movie again and again. That charge could be leveled at Robert Zemeckis, because his new “Welcome to Marwen” shares themes and memes with “Forrest Gump.” It also contains notes of “Back to the Future” sprinkled in for good measure.

“Welcome to Marwen” is based on a true story about an upstate New York artist who underwent a vicious assault that left  him with post-traumatic stress disorder and robbed him of his memory and ability to draw.

Steve Carell plays Mark Hogancamp, who gets drunk in his local bar one night and admits to a handful of ruffians that he likes to wear women’s shoes. For that admission, he is beaten within an inch of his life.

Out of the hospital and attempting to recover, Hogancamp constructs a mini World War II Belgian village in the yard behind his home. He names the village Marwen, Mar for Mark and Wen for Wendy, the barmaid who found him when he was left for dead.

Marwen becomes his obsession and place to escape to when reality becomes too much for him to bear.

The village is populated by dolls that represent him as Cap’n Hogey, a World War II fighter pilot, and the real women in his life: one who runs the hobby store where he buys his supplies, his physical therapist from the hospital and a co-worker from the bar where he has a part-time job. In his head, Hogancamp writes an ongoing narrative for the characters from Marwen as they fight the Nazis.

When an attractive neighbor, Nicol (Leslie Mann), moves in across the street, Mark works her into his imaginary World War II fantasy, all the while courting her in real life.

The focal point of the plot is an upcoming court date. The five men who assaulted Hogancamp are being sentenced. Hogancamp’s lawyer wants him to read a victim’s statement about the men to ensure that they get the maximum punishment. He’s reluctant to read it due to his PTSD. The hallucinations he experiences are horrific and seem to spring on him out of nowhere.

The movie is half Mark’s real life, and half the make-believe world of Marwen.

Carell plays Hogancamp as a bit of a savant. Hence, my comparison of him to Forrest Gump, the title character in one of Zemeckis’ most popular films. He’s going back to the same well where he’s had success in the past.

Like much of the movie’s story line, Carell is odd and sweet. Hogancamp has gotten artistic recognition for the photographs he takes of the characters in Marwen. But he’s treated largely as the village idiot around town.

The plot of the movie is cleverly constructed. Carell and Mann are believable in the lead roles, and the dolls of the Marwen village are marvels of special effects.

The real question here is: Will audiences be captivated by a movie that is half imaginary playtime acted out by plastic dolls? It grabbed my attention initially but didn’t hold it long.

I think this movie will be a hard sell at the box office.

REVIEW

Who: With Steve Carell, Leslie Mann, Merritt Wever, Janelle Monae and Neil Jackson. Directed by Robert Zemeckis. 

Rated: PG-13.

Running time: 126 minutes.

When: Opens Friday, Dec. 21.

Where: Area theaters.

Grade: B-

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