Greetings again from the darkness. For proof that social media and the internet can be used for good, I offer as evidence this film from writer-director Dean Fleisher-Camp and co-writers Elizabeth Holm, Nick Paley, and Jenny Slate. The first ‘Marcel’ short film hit the internet in 2010 and was such a hit that there were two follow-up short films and a best-selling picture book. Now expanded to a feature length film of 90 minutes, the innovative and curious premise holds up due to the fully-formed character of a precious one-googly-eyed mollusk shell wearing … yes … shoes.
Why do we connect with Marcel? Well, the instantly recognized voice created by Jenny Slate plays a huge part. There is a welcoming innocence in the wispy tone, and when combined with the exceptional writing, the result is a relatable character full of warmth and wit, and pain and humor. Marcel is naïve, yet persistent. He’s someone we like and pull for. The story is told via faux-documentary as a filmmaker (played by director Fleisher-Camp) stays in the Airbnb where Marcel lives with his aging grandmother Connie (voiced by Isabella Rossellini). During interviews, we learn that Marcel longs for his family and community that was disrupted when the home’s original owners broke up and moved out. Since then, Marcel has looked after his grandmother and helped her tend the garden. They have been quite creative in their use of household resources, including a tennis ball for transportation.
The filmmaker posts the interviews online and soon Marcel has a huge following, giving him hope that his family can be tracked down. This leads to a terrific “60 Minutes” segment with journalist Leslie Stahl. The best description I can offer of Marcel is adorable – not a word I use very often. Marcel forces us to view the world through a child’s eye, but it’s important to note, that while young children may find Marcel cute, the dialogue, wit, and life issues covered will be way over their heads (though not offensive in the least). Young kids (under 10) should probably stick to the shorts. The sad and painful context is balanced by sweetness and optimism. Marcel’s story inspires us to embrace all stages of life with an open heart and mind – dealing with grief and sadness, while coming out the other side with spirit intact.
A24 specializes in distributing innovative and creative movies, and this certainly qualifies. It’s not really a mockumentary because it’s not mocking anything. The stop-motion approach in documentary style may initially seem like whimsy, but we quickly realize it’s more substantive. Individual strength and the power of community are on full display, and somehow Marcel the Shell teaches us … while wearing shoes.
Opens in select theaters now and everywhere on July 15.