Review by Jillian K.
With the skillful aid of A24 production, a one-inch shell named Marcel, whose bright personality and gentle curiosity provides an often overlooked perspective on grief; that of a childish innocence. Marcel and his grandmother are surrounded by creativity, through their brightly colored living spaces formed by lost objects and household items. This warm atmosphere however, appears to be lacking something, creating a ghost town feel. The mysteriously missing community creates an empty feeling of abandonment regardless of their bright living spaces. The movie follows Marcel through the eyes of a young filmmaker who came across their small existence during his stay in the Airbnb. When suddenly the documentary on their lives goes viral online, creating hope for Marcel in recovering his family.
For some reason the first word I can think of to describe this movie is refreshing. Most movies focusing on grief hone in on dark character mentalities, with an all consuming sorrow wrapped into every scene. Marcel the Shell With Shoes On displays a more gentle approach with the childish wonder Marcel retains. Despite the loss of the majority of his family, Marcel persists with youthful creativity through his repurposing of tiny objects to create a beautiful hidden world. Some of the wonderfully entertaining creations include, a lost tennis ball to crawl inside for faster transportation, a variety of Rube Goldberg Machines to get “big” tasks done as small beings (my favorite being the use of a blender contraption to shake fruit from plants), and most importantly Marcel’s lint ball attached to a piece of string that he walks around as if it’s a dog. I loved watching Marcel move around this tiny world created with a mishmash of random things. The level of production creativity demonstrated in these tiny sets is fascinating. The detail put into every little space Marcel enters is breathtaking. With his small size, the cinematography is a mix of a clay stop motion style and live action. I found this aspect to also emphasize the childish wonder Marcel has, especially when he gains traction through his online popularity, as he discovers the world beyond his small creations.
Although Marcel is brimming with curiosity and excitement, when things get quiet that feeling of longing for something missing returns. His generally whimsical viewpoint slows for a moment, as the viewers begin to feel for Marcel’s grief for his missing family. As a young character his mindset often dismisses his sense of abandonment, as he covers up his loss with positivity. His rapid topic changes when he becomes misty eyed while speaking of his family furthers his childlike aura, with random comments that scream the same innocence as a child looking for love in their activities. His general optimism despite his grief is heartwarming in a bittersweet way. Making viewers cry with quotes like, “Guess why I smile a lot… uh , cause it’s worth it.” While some criticize how Marcel will go from saying such as that above to randomly expressing his love for grapes, is too abrupt, I would disagree as it furthers the atmospheric youth Marcel exudes. It was watching his optimism and childish wonder wax and wane that created a movie that brimmed with warmth but had an underlying, gut feeling of loss.
Another aspect of this film I thought was done particularly well was the notes of criticism on modern society. After Marcel and his grandmother go viral, Marcel is filled with reinvigorated hope in finding his lost loved ones. Throughout the movie he, however, only seems to become more disinheartented. Instead of people searching for his family, he quickly finds the internet to be a phantom stream of love instead of actual aid. Young people film TikToks in front of his home, others steal things around the yard, and many see his story similar to a tourist location. Watching Marcel make this discovery as his situation only worsens through his grandmother’s sickly condition is truly heartbreaking. As Marcel starts to display disdain towards his situation, losing his constant optimism as he must take responsibility for his grandmother’s care, the viewer mourns for his waning youthful wonder. His grandmother’s gentle but fierce love towards Marcel shines until the very end. Creating a relationship that made me cry in a soft kind of way, with tears falling, but a small smile.
Frankly, with all things considered, I found this movie to be stunning, not only in visuals but also in content. The gorgeous visuals stand out in a way that exemplifies the movie’s intended themes, with the perspective of a shell so tiny, a child-like view is created through warm tones, and miniscule sets. This movie was simply like a warm hug of nostalgia, created through loveable characters, and instilling a youthful wonder in viewers.
Although Marcel may just be a tiny shell, he is undoubtedly human through his innate optimism shadowed by deep grief, that grips any person willing to take the time to hear his story.