If your first reaction to learning about this film is “wait what?” please know you are not alone. Yes, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is a feature length film based on the series of YouTube shorts from 2010-2014. You may have seen them in a friend’s dorm room or on a lunch break. Marcel is cute! He’s voiced by Jenny Slate! And now he has a movie that is very good! Sweet, somehow never cloying (though mileage may vary), and gently funny, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is a lovely tale of yearning to build a community in a world of hostility. Plus the animation on Marcel, courtesy of Kirsten Lepore (Adventure Time), is to die for.
Marcel (Jenny Slate) is a young shell -further questions about the biology of Marcel and his kind are politely ignored- who lives in a big house with his grandmother Connie (Isabella Rossellini). One day, divorced filmmaker Dean (Dean Fleischer-Camp) moves into the house and discovers Marcel. He begins filming Marcel, documenting his daily tasks, eccentricities, hopes, and dreams. When a video of Marcel goes viral, Marcel starts to imagine a world beyond the house, daring to believe he could be reunited with his missing family, who disappeared one stormy evening. The tiny shell must contend with his fame, his ailing nana, and Lesley Stahl to plot his own future.
The combination of Lepore’s subtle stop-motion animation and Slate’s quiet, timorous voice make the tiny one-eyed shell an incredibly expressive character. The same can be said for Nanna Connie, brought to life by a surprisingly-but-not-really-surprisingly great performance from Rossellini. We all know Isabella Rossellini can do anything, but to voice an aging, tired, kind grandmother trying to do right by her anxious grandson before she passes on? She brings this whole thing together in a way I didn’t think possible. At the Independent Film Festival Boston screening back in early May, Jenny Slate said the film was an enormous labor of love, and it shows. You couldn’t make this film if you didn’t care deeply about Marcel’s journey.
So yes, the feature-length mockumentary about Marcel the Shell is a tiny triumph among the bombast of this weak summer movie season. Don’t bother with Lightyear or Jurassic World or whatever is even coming out in July (Nope will be fun, but no one really needs more Minions). Listen to the philosophical musings of a shell that climbs walls by dipping his little red shoes in honey!
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On
dir. Dean Fleischer-Camp
In theaters (including the Coolidge Corner Theatre) Friday, July 1st