Even the most open-minded person might be skeptical about buying a ticket to see a live-action movie about a talking shell with a one googly eye wearing tiny tennis shoes. It’s just not an image one easily gets their head around. And yet, about 45 seconds into that movie—appropriately titled Marcel the Shell With Shoes On—any skepticism or doubt instantly melts away and you’ll wish you bought even more tickets, brought even more friends, and could start all over again because it’s obvious you’re in for something very special.
If Marcel the Shell With Shoes On sounds a little bit familiar, that’s because it’s based on a series of viral videos from the early 2010s by filmmakers Dean Fleischer Camp and Jenny Slate, both of whom return for the feature. Camp plays himself, a documentary filmmaker who rents an Airbnb only to find it’s inhabited by a walking, talking, sentient seashell named Marcel. With shoes on. Dean decides to make a documentary about Marcel (voiced by Slate), filming his daily activities, observations, and more. Eventually, we watch the Marcel short films go viral, much as they did in reality, fact and fiction blur, and things only get more interesting from there.
There are honestly so many things to adore about this film it’s hard to pick one place to start, but we’ll go with the shell in the title. Marcel is an very smart and resourceful character, and every time we see how he has solved some sort of real-world problem, it’s fascinating and precious. His innocence is also incredibly pure so his observations about life, and especially about the filmmaker Dean’s life, ring true in a fresh, enlightening way. As the story gets bigger and the film gets more meta, Marcel too becomes more aware. He’s exposed to aspects of life he never dreamed of and offers additional insights than we, the audience, are not expecting. His story gets sad too, as we find out why it’s just him and his grandma Connie (Isabella Rossellini) in the house and the one thing Marcel truly wants.
Camp’s choice to film Marcel as a faux documentary, blending live-action with stop-motion as opposed to CGI, gives the film a unique, inviting sense of participation. It’s as if the audience becomes part of the film. A fly on the wall of this story. The script by Camp, Slate, and Nick Paley is just that, a script, but it’s filled with improvisational riffs and quiet tangents that add an even more personal touch. It also helps that the film is so firmly rooted in our reality, mostly via technology and media. Through Marcel’s insight into social media and the internet, and humanity’s ability for good and evil, you constantly feel like you’re learning from the little guy. His relationship and rapport with Dean adds yet another layer, bringing funny observations and interactions as well as a budding, important friendship. Truly, the film is filled with laugh-out-loud moments that elevate the drama and vice versa, all while giving a sense like you’re a vital part of this world.
None of this would work, though, if not for Jenny Slate’s contribution. Yes, she’s a co-writer and producer, but most crucially, as the voice of Marcel she has to be relatable, adorable, and inquisitive, but also snarky and humorous. All of which she is and more. That we become so quickly enamored and invested in a character that can’t show a lot of emotion is mainly due to her, and it’s a marvel.
That’s Marcel in the Shell with Shoes On though. Flat out marvelous. It’s hilarious, poignant, surprising, and life-affirming, to name but a few of my reactions. A simple, beautiful movie that you should make a point to see as soon as possible. Marcel the Shell With Shoes On is currently in select theaters and expanding wide this weekend.
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