A couple of weeks ago, I finally saw “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once” for the first time. I went in with all of the praise and hype that the film has received, but I left the theater feeling like something was missing. For me, the film fell flat — I would rate it ⅖ stars — because it lacked charm and substance. As someone who enjoys experimental aspects in film, I’d wanted one that used it without seeming as if the filmmaker wasn’t trying so hard to make the weirdness the only memorable aspect of the movie. However, my desire to see modern surrealism done well was fulfilled when I saw the most recent A24 film, “Marcel The Shell With Shoes On.”
Inspired by a viral YouTube video from 2010, “Marcel” plays out as a mockumentary that is directed by an amateur filmmaker named Dean Fleischer-Camp (who plays himself). He decides while at an AirBnB after leaving his girlfriend, to make a documentary on some tiny living shells named Marcel (Jenny Slate) and his grandma 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 that used to reside in the AirBnB. As a result of the documentary, which Dean posts on YouTube, Marcel becomes an immediate internet sensation and people grow smitten with his cuteness and simple lifestyle. Through this new fame and attention, Marcel tries to use it to begin the search for his family and to reunite once again.
As of now, I have only seen two Studio Ghibli films, “Howl’s Moving Castle” and “My Neighbor Totoro” — although I have recently bought a Blu-ray of “Kiki’s Delivery Service” and plan on watching it with my family this Thanksgiving. I say this because “Marcel the Shell” has such a whimsy that is reminiscent of both Ghibli and Pixar’s greatest hits. Almost immediately after we are introduced to Marcel and the world he has built with Connie, we are immediately engrossed in Marcel’s wellbeing and the accomplishment of his goal to reunite himself and Connie with their long lost family. Even the events between these bigger story beats are fun to watch, since there is much conflict built out of the fact that these are miniature shells whose big world is encapsulated within a regular-sized house.
Despite my enjoyment, one qualm I had with the film is the ultraclear cinematography the film has. Despite Dean Fleischer-Camp and cinematographers Bianca Cline and Eric Adkins trying to illustrate a contemporary yet nostalgic look and feel to the frame, many of these shots look straight out of a commercial for a Silicon Valley corporation. It can take you out of the slow and methodical nature of the film and make the world look a little uninviting. But what makes that aspect a small grievance rather than a sore thumb is the great editing from Fleischer-Camp and Nick Paley. A lot of the empathy you feel for Marcel, Connie, and Dean comes from how the story is structured and assembled together. One way the editing enhances the story is definitely in how the film depicts the humble and slow nature manner found in the shell’s lifestyle, and transitions into their skyrocketing to online stardom when the documentary is posted on YouTube. In addition, the very cute and charming humor of the film is edited as a small, lovable quirk in this world rather than anything awkward or forced.
The performances and chemistry in the film are also great. Jenny Slate in particular seems to have been working on her voice performance as Marcel for her entire life. I can hardly hear her voice and only hear the sound of an adorable little boy who is in the body of a miniature shell. Isabella Rosselini is also such an amazing voice performance as this old shell, who although may not be able to follow Marcel in his spontaneous adventures, can still understand and have some fun with her grandson. Dean Fleischer-Camp also is a great part of the film, playing himself as a director who tries to be omniscient in his documentary, but also slowly gets roped into their small yet beautiful world alongside the viewer.
I really don’t have anything else to say about this film. It is such a surreal and amazing film that is nothing but lighthearted fun for the whole family. This is a breath of fresh air in modern film, and could prove to be a family classic alongside “The Lion King” and “Toy Story.”