Jenny Slate’s career breakthrough moment may have gotten off to a bad start when she inadvertently said “fucking” during a 2009 SNL sketch which led to her being fired.
But since that time, she has more than made up for that slip-up. She starred in Gillian Robespierre’s brilliant 2014 pro-choice movie “Obvious Child” (alongside her longtime comedy partner, gay performer Gabe Liedman), as well as voiced the character of biracial Missy on Netflix’s adult cartoon series “Big Mouth.” Always a professional, Slate bowed out from “Big Mouth” because “Black characters on an animated show should be played by Black people.”
With her newest project, “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” (A24), Slate has the potential for Oscar glory. A film project that is so utterly original and unusual that it deserves to be seen by everyone. “The movie, a seamless and inventive blend of stop-motion animation and live-action, is presented documentary style.
Filmmaker Dean (director and co-screenwriter Dean Fleischer-Camp) takes up temporary residence in an Airbnb following a relationship breakup. While there, he encounters Marcel (voiced by co-screenwriter Jenny Slate, who also co-created the short on which the movie is based), the titular one-eyed, shoe-wearing shell. Marcel lives with his grandmother Nana Connie (voiced by Isabella Rossellini, who also provided the voice of talking hamster Buffy in the 2015 gay movie “Closet Monster”).
Marcel, Connie, and the rest of the shells in their close-knit “community” led a peaceful existence until Larissa and Mark, the couple in whose home they were collected, split up and turned the house into an Airbnb. When the couple packed up their things and went their separate ways, Marcel thinks Mark dumped the other shells into his suitcase in his haste to leave. The shells had been hiding in Mark’s sock drawer during the human couple’s heated arguments. Marcel and Connie were the only two left behind.
The resourceful Marcel has devised an ingenious method of transportation around the house – rolling across the floor inside a tennis ball. He steps in honey to make the soles of his shoes sticky enough to allow him to climb walls. He skates on a dusty table for enjoyment and fitness.
Marcel is also compassionate and philosophical. He misses his parents, relatives, and friends, whom he pines after. His life revolves around looking after Nana Connie, and their relationship, while thoroughly animated, feels as authentic as if they were human. Marcel doesn’t hesitate to share his wisdom and worldview with Dean, often making profound, as well as humorous, comments.
Marcel and Connie also share a deep-seated affection and admiration for “60 Minutes” and its longtime correspondent Lesley Stahl. So, when a “60 Minutes” producer calls, having seen Dean’s YouTube videos about Marcel, the opportunity arises for others to join Marcel and Connie to meet their idol. Additionally, others now have the opportunity to join Marcel in his search for his lost community.
Everything about “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” is fresh, funny, and full of warm feeling. The writing and the performances, especially Slate and Rossellini feel groundbreaking. It’s safe to say you’ve never seen anything like “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” before, but you’ll be glad you did.