The delightful and sweet “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” provides irrefutable proof that heartwarming humor doesn’t just exist—it’s delightful.
Many on the more cynical and grumpy side of things (area I frequently live in) will tell you that comedy has to be transgressive, or at least contrarian, and can’t be delivered in affirmative packaging. But in this wonderful work that combines live action and clever stop-motion animation, belly laughs interrupt tears and wistful sighs. There’s not much like “Marcel the Shell”.
Voiced and created by deeply underrated actress Jenny Slate, the title character is…well, a seashell. He is a 1 inch shell with one eye and a pair of pink sneakers; He lives with his grandmother Connie (Isabella Rossellini) in a row of midget buildings in an AirBNB. There used to be a few extra grenades, but they were accidentally thrown away when the house’s former human occupants went through a breakup.
An aspiring documentary filmmaker – Dean Fleischer-Camp, who directs both films and films within a film – is now staying at the AirBNB and decides to upload part of Marcel’s story to YouTube. (This is a meta moment; Marcel first appeared in a 2010 short film by Fleischer-Camp, which he himself distributed online.) The world is entranced by the precocious shell, and Marcel is hoping his newfound popularity will help him spread to reunite with his family.
Marcel the Shell is a film about the joys and limitations of communities, both real and online. It’s not unrealistic either; Both the potential of the internet and its toxicity are presented unabashedly, and while Marcel revels in the presence of others, he also resists constant socializing. Few commentaries on the intricate and nuanced realities of human interaction in the 21st century are quite as accurate; While the lyrics are bland (the screenplay is also by Slate and Fleischer-Camp with Nick Paley), there is something profound about Marcel the Shell.
Besides that, it’s funny. Very funny. Much of this is thanks to Slate, who is not only a compelling actress but also one of the funniest in the world. Too often relegated to supporting and speaking roles, her command of timing and tone is all but unparalleled. I’ve seen more than enough star vehicles for performers who don’t have half of Slate’s skills; Let’s start casting her in everything please.
I won’t get too bitter about it though, because Marcel wouldn’t want it. As much as this is a comedy, it’s an emotionally cathartic tearjerker about loss, change, and maturity. For every chuckle I heard in the auditorium, there was a muffled sob. I admit that I didn’t enter “Marcel the Shell” because I expected to be moved; I shouldn’t have been so jaded. This is not a fun or cute project; It’s just a remarkable film.
My rating: 9/10
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is now set in Pittsburgh.