‘Marcel the Shell with Shoes On’ movie review: A therapeutic, absurdist mockumentary on life
Marcel (Jenny Slate) is a one-inch tall shell with pink shoes, an eye and a mouth who uses a broken tennis ball as a rover and human nails as skies to move around. Living in an Airbnb with nana Connie, he is busy navigating life after getting accidentally separated from his community. He feels lost on some days and yearns for a sense of belonging, but does not let those emotions consume him as he has his nana (who is showing signs of dementia) to look after.
When Dean (Dean Fleischer Camp), a filmmaker, moves into the Airbnb, he discovers Marcel and begins filming him for his YouTube channel. The one-inch tall creature soon acquires a mass following and is the subject of Instagram Reels and TikToks. His fans throng to his residence to catch a glimpse and try their best to capitalise on his fame. The tongue-in-cheek critique of para-social relationships and celebrity culture in the age of the internet is delivered well thanks to Marcel’s charm. His fame eventually helps him land an interview with 60 Minutes and he uses the opportunity to reunite with his family through pleas on national television.
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (English)
Director: Dean Fleischer Camp
Cast: Jenny Slate, Dean Fleischer Camp, Isabella Rossellini, Nathan Fielder, Rosa Salazar, Thomas Mann
Runtime: 90 minutes
Storyline: Marcel, a one-inch-tall shell, lives with his grandmother Connie after an accidental separation from his family. A short film about him by a guest living in the Airbnb begets Marcel millions of passionate fans and new hope of reuniting with his long-lost family
Marcel has not seen his family in over two years and regrets that he did not have a chance to say a proper goodbye. On some days when the sun shines a little brighter and the birds sing, he is dejected at not being able to share these joys with his family and friends.
The shell feels like a creature the human mind is capable of conjuring up to reason with the emotional distress caused by grief and separation; however, it is Dean’s manifestation of Marcel on-screen that does the magic.
Through a one-inch creature, Dean helps us understand the fleeting nature of life. Endowing a shell with human emotions lends the audience the space to look at their own emotional complications from a third person’s point of view which pushes them to be kinder to themselves in the process.
There is a tinge of reality mixed with the stop-motion and live-action depiction of an alien creature’s emotional tribulations; the movie’s premise rests heavily on issues of romantic separation and divorce, which feels like a reference to the director’s real-life divorce. It succeeds in blurring the lines between the fantasy and the real and comes very close to breaking the fourth wall with its self-awareness.
While Marcel drudges on, takes challenges on his chin, and adapts to continue living, he cannot help but feel the absence of a community. His everyday activities are fashioned around being lonely and on one occasion he admits that his needs are not being met.
When he is not surrounded by the people he loves, life starts to seem like a survival competition that pushes him deeper into his shell and serves as a great buffer character for the audience to inspect their own insecurities and shortcomings.
Still, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On will have you cackling and crying at the absurdity of life and survival. The creature’s snide remarks are always witty and when he tries to preach a cliche, you let him… because his eclectic ways start to grow on you.
While the initial 30 minutes of the film take you by surprise and disarm you with unusual dialogues radiating with high energy, the narrative flattens as we move along and feels rushed towards the end. After showing a creature with emotional maturity and an intricate layer of commentary on daily life, the events that take precedence over the philosophical meanderings of Marcel in the later half of the movie work against it.
Despite a few pacing issues and logical improbabilities, Marcel will leave you with a confused stream of tears running down your cheeks.