Rated PG. At first, I was going to rally, claiming that Marcel was the most G-rated thing ever. Then I remembered that there was a character that was a tampon. In-and-of-itself, that's nothing that warrents a PG rating. But then I remembered further and remembered that Marcel comments on a pubic hair and there's a drug joke in the movie. Okay, PG is fine. I'll take it.
DIRECTOR: Dean Fleischer Camp
Oh man. Guys, this one got awkward for me. I don't know details about celebrity breakups, but I know that I want everyone to be happy and that no one should ever get divorced. (Then I remembered that people are monsters and things like Marcel the Shell with Shoes On are meant to temper my cynicism.) So much of this movie was just me looking at my wife, knowing that Jenny Slate and Dean Fleischer Camp were married and that Dean Fleischer Camp, playing a fictional version of himself, is mourning the end of a marriage. And Jenny Slate is the eponymous character. Oh man. The cringe, guys! It's real.
I never really got into Marcel the Shell as a meme. Okay, I use the word "meme" like a Boomer, but you get what I mean. Marcel was this Internet phenomenon, something the movie actively comments on. But given a little bit of time, I love that Marcel was a thing. I came to this both because of the Academy Awards and because of Jenny Slate. It's really weird, because I don't get a lot of Jenny Slate in Marcel. Marcel is the epitome of innocence. (Geez, it sounds like I'm being really judgy of Jenny Slate.) Slate, in my mind, is partially defined by her first episode of SNL. She's a genius and a talent, but I couple her up with some of the bad boys of entertainment. There's always been this edge to her, so seeing her do something like Marcel is somehow a balm for me. It expresses this range that, although a bit silly considering that she's playing a sentient shell, reminds me that I can't and shoudln't define people based on what they have put out previously. Marcel, with all of the absurdity attached to even writing such a thing, is one of the deep characters that I felt proud to show my kids. For as goofy as Marcel is, he vocalizes what it means to be a kid the entire time.
The movie runs in two different directions for me. There's the message of the movie, dealing with the notion of dementia and family and loss and grief. Then there's also the story of Dean Fleischer Camp, who is vocalizing a pain that is too real to be comfortable. I wanted my kids to watch Marcel the Shell with Shoes On with me because I saw that it was PG and it was up for Best Animated Film. But I don't necessarily know if it is a family movie. That's probably not accurate. I think I need to expand my horizons for what a family movie might be. While there are some mildly offensive moments in the movie, it's not there for shock value. If anything, I feel like Slate and Camp are intentionally holding back from what Marcel the Shell could be. Rather, there's a reason that we have all of this from both a child's perspective (Marcel) and Dean's perspective. Yeah, Marcel is the hero of the story. But Camp is really playing up the notion of the role of the documentarian in this movie. Sure, it's fiction. I get that there's no sentient shells looking for lost families. But as a mockumentary, Camp really lays into the role that there is someone filming and that person has a perspective that needs to be communicated.
Marcel's story is intrinsically linked to Grandma Connie. Connie plays the over-all role of family. With Marcel's family gone, Connie is all encompassing. It's weird, because I get the vibe that Connie is an outsider in the story. There's no doubt that Marcel loves Connie, but he treats her in a way that we treat people in nursing homes. They are loved, but from a distance. As the story progresses, however, Connie plays a more important role in the story. It's not accidental that the role that Connie plays increases as Marcel becomes more interested in finding his family...or at least discussing his family. It's what makes it so heartbreaking as dementia overwhelms Connie. Yes, Connie has value in and of herself. She is this fully realized character and it is mortifying when she dies. But her role from the beginning of the movie is to die. It's depressing to write that, but every element of that character is to remind Marcel that people do end.
Maybe that's why Marcel gets his family back. I didn't know how I felt about that. Heck, I'm kind of just piecing it together as I write this. But death has always been the end of a story. We treat death as something that we have to grapple with. Maybe Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is screaming that life doesn't have to be isolating. Typically, movies go with the found-family element, making Dean Marcel's new family. But instead, it points out that family tends to be compartmentalized. Yeah, it's a dicey topic. I know that we're all different and that we all come from different backgrounds. It never feels like Marcel's departed family replaces Connie. But also, we do tend to built new relationships in our lives. I know that there are people out there who have no one else. But the reality of mourning is that, while it is an intensely personal experience, it is almost impossible to not build new relationships. We are social creatures and maybe that's the point of Marcel the Shell with Shoes On. It's not saying to pick oneself up by the bootstraps; a message I have a great problem with. It's about finding new family, not to replace, but to grow with.
I can't be the only one talking about the meta narrative of Marcel the Shell with Shoes On. Even for a guy who didn't really get into the older short, it is stil one of those things that broke through the cultural zeitgeist and transformed. But throughout the story, Marcel deals with the notion that he's become Internet famous. It's a very specific kind of famous. Now, what's interesting is that Marcel doesn't follow the formula. Marcel never gets too big for his little shell shoes. Instead, Marcel always seems to be someone looking in from the outside. Even when he's meeting Lesley Stahl (perhaps the best cameo in a movie for a while because it just fits the movie so perfectly), he's this person who is just confused by the notion of fame. God forbid, he actually wields that power for good. Marcel's sheer joy of just meeting Stahl is feelgoodery. But it also is telling about the actual role of fame. Fame, especially when I complain about biopics, tends to be something that is fundamentally evil. It makes good people corrupt. And, yeah, Marcel is a fictional character (which is given away in the title defining him as a "shell with shoes on"). But Marcel instantly uses that fame for the betterment of Dean and for finding his family. He hides from the attention he gains. It's almost a burden for him.
Part of that comes from the fact that he is a child, but it also more screams to the earnest nature of Marcel's innocence. Part of what corrupts people with fame is the role of the mask. I don't deny that I have a mask. God forbid, I gain an ounce of fame, I don't become a monster. But I'd like to think that just because one has a modicum of fame, it doesn't make them monsters. After all, there's lots of famous people. I can't name any of them right now. (Not true. "George Clooney" is just running through my head on repeat. Just the name. And an image of him from Good Night, and Good Luck, for some reason.) But I didn't want Marcel to confront his evil past. It's not like the movie is devoid of plot because Marcel doesn't sell out his morals. Marcel --and I can't believe I'm saying this --is thankfully a static character. He goes through things, but he doesn't sacrifice who he is to get to that final story point. It's kind of uplifting in a weird way. It might give me the hope that I've been so desperately seeking during this bummer season of the Oscars.
Yeah, maybe Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, is the anti-2023 Oscar film. In a season full of bummer movies (I'm not looking at you, Top Gun: Maverick / Photocopied Star Wars.) It's funny. I've always wondered why A24 hasn't gotten more attention from the Academy. A24 tended to make bummer movies that looked gorgeous. Now we have two A24 movies that aren't really bummer films (Marcel the Shell with Shoes On and Everything Everywhere All at Once) and they're going against the grain to get nominations? It's a weird world, my friends. But it doesn't really get any pleasantly weirder than Marcel the Shell with Shoes On.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.