Review: Jenny Slate’s Marcel the Shell with Shoes On will leave you a weepy mess, and you’ll be happy for it

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is a feature-length expansion of the viral short film that writer/actress Jenny Slate and actor/director Dean Fleischer-Camp conjured up more than a decade ago.Elevation Pictures

  • Marcel the Shell with Shoes On
  • Directed by Dean Fleischer-Camp
  • Written by Dean Fleischer-Camp and Nick Paley
  • Starring Jenny Slate, Dean Fleischer-Camp and Isabella Rossellini
  • Classification PG; 89 minutes
  • Opens in theatres July 1

Critic’s Pick


We have all cried in our homes, alone, for far too long. This summer, let’s all go cry together in a movie theatre.

That line above isn’t a quote, exactly, but the marketing team at indie-cool film distributor A24 should feel free to pick it up as the tag line to their new movie, the delightfully heart-tugging weepie Marcel the Shell with Shoes On.

A feature-length expansion of the viral short film that writer/actress Jenny Slate and actor/director Dean Fleischer-Camp conjured up more than a decade ago – which in turn spawned two follow-up shorts and a cute-as-a-button children’s storybook – Marcel the Shell with Shoes On represents a genre unto itself: half live-action, half stop-motion animation, all captured in a faux-documentary style. That might sound unbearably twee, but there is real emotion and purpose pumped into the tiny picture – it has a heart as big as its title character is small.

About that guy: Marcel is a one-inch-tall seashell who can talk (in a Jenny Slate whisper-squeak), can see (with his one googly eye), and walk (with his doll-sized shoes). He lives in a giant Airbnb-operated suburban home with his grandmother, a slightly larger shell named Connie (Isabella Rossellini), and their pet lint, Alan (voiced by nobody, because Alan is just a piece of lint, obviously). Marcel and Connie live a quiet life built around everyday habits and chores (gardening, cooking, transporting themselves around the house by hopping inside a tennis ball), sometimes being noticed by the various Airbnb guests that come their way, and sometimes ignored altogether. They sing songs, play games, and make a habit of spending Sunday nights watching 60 Minutes.

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On provides an opportunity for all of us to break down, together.Elevation Pictures

But then a filmmaker named Dean (played by the film’s own director, Dean Fleischer-Camp) moves in, and strikes a friendship with Marcel – one that he chronicles in short documentary-style clips, which are posted online to wild success. With Marcel now a bona fide social-media star, the little shell that could embarks on a mission to find the family members that he and Connie lost one night long ago, when the original human owners of their house split up, accidentally taking a bunch of other tiny, talking molluscs along with them.

There are several layers of meta-ness to the proceedings – the commentary on Marcel’s original virility, the fact that the character of Dean is recently divorced, just like the real Dean was recently divorced from Slate while making the film – but the filmmakers prove to be experts at balancing context with character, style with sincerity. Even though this is a movie about a talking shell, nothing feels quite un-real.

As Dean learns more about Marcel’s life, and especially the family members who he dearly longs for, the film becomes a full-throated, clear-eyed testament to the pains of isolation, the power of community, and the kindness that everyone is capable of, given half the chance. Add in hilariously energetic, beautifully tender performances from Slate and Rossellini, and you have the surprise delight of the summer season.

You will cry, your children will cry, and the theatre workers cleaning up your mess during the credits will probably cry, too (and not just for the usual reasons). After so much time spent barely keeping it together on our own, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On provides an opportunity for all of us to break down, together.

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