‘Marcel The Shell With Shoes On’: No hollow film here
A few weeks ago, I finally saw “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once” for the first time. I walked in with all the praise and hype the film received, but left the theater feeling something was missing. For me, the film fell flat – I would give it ⅖ stars – because it lacked charm and substance. As someone who loves the experimental aspects of film, I wanted one that used it without making it look like the filmmaker wasn’t trying so hard to make the weirdness the only memorable aspect of the film. However, my desire to see modern surrealism done right came true when I saw the latest A24 film, “Marcel The Shell With Shoes On”.
Inspired by a viral youtube video from 2010, “Marcel” bills itself as a mockumentary directed by an amateur filmmaker named Dean Fleischer-Camp (who plays himself). He decides while in an AirBnB after leaving his girlfriend, to make a documentary about tiny living seashells named Marcel (Jenny Slate) and his grandmother Connie (Isabella Rossellini). Throughout the film, we learn that Marcel has been living alone with Connie for almost two years after she ended up losing her family to a fighting couple who previously resided at the AirBnB. Following the documentary, which Dean posts on YouTube, Marcel becomes an immediate internet sensation and people fall in love with his kindness and simple lifestyle. With this newfound fame and attention, Marcel tries to use it to begin the search for his family and reunite again.
So far I’ve only seen two Studio Ghibli films, ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ and ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ – although I recently purchased a Blu-ray of ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’ and plan to watch it with my family this Thanksgiving. I say this because “Marcel the Shell” has such a whimsy reminiscent of both Ghibli and Pixar’s greatest hits. Almost immediately upon being introduced to Marcel and the world he has built with Connie, we are immediately absorbed in Marcel’s well-being and fulfilling his goal of reuniting Connie with their long-lost family. Even the events between these larger story beats are fun to watch, as there’s a lot of conflict due to them being miniature shells whose big world is encapsulated in a full-size house.
Despite my enjoyment, one qualm I had with the film is the film’s ultra-clear cinematography. Although Dean Fleischer-Camp and cinematographers Bianca Cline and Eric Adkins attempt to capture a contemporary yet nostalgic feel to the setting, many of these shots look like they’re straight out of an ad for a Silicon Valley company. It can take you out of the slow, methodical nature of the movie and make the world look a little unappealing. But what makes this look a minor grievance rather than a sore thumb is Fleischer-Camp and Nick Paley’s excellent editing. Much of the empathy you feel for Marcel, Connie, and Dean comes from how the story is structured and put together. One way the editing enhances the story is certainly in the way the film portrays the humble, slow-moving nature found in the shell-and-shell lifestyle, and cuts to their surge to online stardom when the documentary is posted on YouTube. Plus, the film’s very cute and charming humor is fitted as an adorable little quirk in this world rather than something awkward or forced.
The performances and chemistry in the film are also great. Jenny Slate in particular seems to have worked on her vocal performance as Marcel all her life. I barely hear his voice and only hear the sound of an adorable little boy who is in the body of a miniature seashell. Isabella Rosselini is also a vocal performance as amazing as this old shell who, even if she cannot follow Marcel in his spontaneous adventures, can always understand and have fun with her grandson. Dean Fleischer-Camp is also a big part of the film, playing himself as a director who tries to be omniscient in his documentary, but also slowly lets himself be drawn into their small but beautiful world alongside the viewer.
I really don’t have anything else to say about this movie. It’s such a surreal and amazing movie that’s nothing but lighthearted fun for the whole family. It’s a breath of fresh air in modern cinema and could prove to be a family classic alongside ‘The Lion King’ and ‘Toy Story’.