A24 is having an incredible 2022. Their WORST release is the fascinating Men. The other 3 are already in my top 10 for the year, including one of the best movies of the last 10 years! Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is now their 4th movie on my Top 10: a beautiful, rare family film bound to delight anyone who watches it. If I were a movie maker, I’d pair with A24 ASAP; they’ve got the magic touch at the moment.
As the title suggests, Marcel (Jenny Slate) is an inches tall shell with an eye and shoes. He lives in an AirBnB’ed house, recently rented by documentary filmmaker Dean (Dean Fleischer-Camp), who discovers him. Intrigued, Dean starts filming Marcel going about his day to day activities, and meets Marcel’s grandma Connie (Isabella Rossellini) and their tiny little two person family. But as Dean films more, Marcel’s story becomes much more complicated in both good ways and bad, sucking the usually omnipotent Dean into a more active role in his documentary.
Post her one season on SNL, Jenny Slate has carved out a nice career for herself. I’ve been impressed at how deep her talents go, succeeding in serious dramas and romcoms alike. She’s amazing voicing Marcel, channeling essentially a wide eyed innocent 8 year old boy. That SNL DNA shines brightest in Marcel the Shell: Slate’s comedic chops are still razor sharp. No matter what Marcel is commenting on: Dean’s doc, dog behavior, internet commenters, etc, there’s bound to be 1 to 2 chuckles or full on laughs in every scene. Looking through Marcel’s eye amusingly disorients the viewer, creating a world the audience is familiar with but forced to look at through new perspective. Fleischer-Camp (also the director) mixes up the jokes in the form of witty repartee or sight gags/pratfalls so there’s something to laugh at for every person and every age, an amazing feat of comedic filmmaking.
While the jokes suck you in, it’s Marcel the Shell’s beautifully rendered story that will sneak up and emotionally wallop you. For anyone who’s seen The Borrowers or The Secret Life of Arrietty, there’s a lot of similar story beats in Marcel the Shell: Marcel and Connie have lost their family, and are alone…together. The relationship between Marcel and Connie is set up by Fleisher-Camp to be the backbone of the tale: it’s strong and sweet, but it’s beset on all sides by worries and dangers, the most dangerous of which he lays out delicately. The empathetic Dean allows Marcel to get his story online to try to find his family, which shows Marcel the upsides/downsides of living a life on the Internet. As Marcel’s world grows bigger and bigger, Marcel gets excited for sure, but he also notices that it’s too much for Connie, causing Marcel panic that he might lose the last of his family. Marcel the Shell’s themes of growing up and taking risks are ubiquitous; thankfully, the movie takes Marcel’s fears seriously, leading to some of the movie’s most emotional moments. Fleisher-Camp treats these moments delicately, but directs them in a way that make them accessible for kids and adults alike. I teared up a few times, especially at a scene involving a chess piece at the very end, a testament to Marcel the Shell’s storytelling brilliance.
Finding a great family film usually means you have to wait for the latest Pixar release. And while those films can be game changers (like one earlier this year), sometimes parents and kids can get a little bored with their schtick. Marcel the Shell is a wonderful change of pace for adults and kids who want to go the movies, a miracle of a movie expanded from a Youtube clip put online 10 years ago. You know something special when you see it, and a one-eyed seashell with shoes AirBnB’ing a house is about as special as you can get in 2022. Bravo, Marcel!