Beneath the Village of Dolls in ‘Welcome to Marwen’

Steve Carell and Robert Zemeckis wallow in pathos.

In 2010, the documentary Marwencol told the story of photographer Mark Hogancamp, who survived a near-fatal beating by a group of men outside a bar. During his recuperation, he constructed a miniature WWII-era Belgian village, peopled it with repurposed Barbie dolls, and crawled into it, literally, in order to escape his physical and emotional pain — and also to photograph the dolls’ adventures. Hogancamp’s obsession led to gallery shows and art world acclaim. Now, with the new live-action/animated psychodrama fantasy Welcome to Marwen, this borderline pathetic story is getting the full Steve Carell/Robert Zemeckis treatment.

It’s more than we ever needed to know. Dazed-looking Mark (Carell) leads a quiet small town life helping out at a restaurant, interacting nervously with the townsfolk, and dreading the day when he’ll have to face his assailants in court. He drags his toy Jeep and its little costumed passengers around behind him like an introverted 5-year old, and labors to make small talk. In significant ways, he’s much like Zemeckis’ notorious half-witted everyman, Forrest Gump.

Then one day a pretty, sympathetic woman named Nicol (Leslie Mann) moves into the house across the road, and we confidently hope Mark can connect with her on some level. Maybe she can take the place of the sinister “fairy queen” doll that Mark idolizes and keeps in a special shrine in his home, the one that comes to him in his dreams. Or at least, maybe Nicol can talk him out of gobbling handfuls of the pain relieving pills that are delivered to him by his caretaker (Gwendoline Christie).

The make-believe sequences (including “Capt. Hogie’s” firefights with Nazi troops) are richly presented and the character acting is broad and declarative as in a fairy tale, but lately we’ve had enough with the delusions of men-children who refuse to grow up, from the White House on down. Welcome to Marwen is a pill-popper thumb-sucker variation on Inglourious Basterds, and we’re not impressed.



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