The Friendly Film Fan Discusses A24’s Feature Adaptation of the Early 2010s YouTube Shorts.
Late in the year 2010 – October 16, to be exact – one video creator named Dean Fleischer-Camp uploaded to YouTube (and Vimeo) a short mockumentary-style film about a little mollusk shell named Marcel, who wore Tennis Shoes and was voiced by comic and future genre star Jenny Slate. Marcel used toenails as skis, wore lentils as hats, and drug around a piece of lint on string to have as a pet, with future openness towards having a dog join the family. The short, running 3 minutes and 22 seconds in total, quickly became a viral hit, and now sits at 32 million views. In fact, it was such a success that a second 4-minute short featuring the character was made and released one year later, with a third to follow three years after that. The two sequels didn’t quite garner as much attention as the original, however, dropping from 32 million to a rough final estimate of 11 million views for the immediate sequel, with the trilogy closer bowing out at a mere 4.6 million. Since October of 2014, Marcel the Shell has not appeared on any screens or in any other works apart from those shorts, until director Dean Fleischer-Camp dropped a feature-length adaptation/sequel to the shorts at the Telluride Film Festival in September of 2021. Its script was written by Fleischer-Camp, Jenny Slate, and Nick Paley, who all worked on the story with Elisabeth Holm. And perhaps most importantly, it was a hit. The feature was then quickly snatched up by indie powerhouse studio A24 and given a summer 2022 release, limited starting June 24, and gradually expanding in more markets until its nationwide release, which is due on July 15 of this year. Whether or not the box office will reflect people’s general nostalgia or interest in the property is anybody’s guess, but for movie fans, and especially for families, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is likely to be one of their favorite summer experiences.
While there’s not much in the filmmaking itself to surprise, subvert, or challenge audiences in terms of sheer creativity, this new feature-length adaptation of Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is every bit as fun and funny as the shorts on which it is based. Jenny Slate once again excels as the titular character, her voice absolutely perfect for the sort of high-tone childlike comedy aspect of the film, but more than capable of selling its lower moments as well. And, of course, the mockumentary-style format is perfect for telling this sort of story in just this sort of way. As Marcel moves around the home, one can feel the ingenuity that went into crafting not just the character’s personality, but the ways in which his actions reflect that. (He’s also just as adorable as ever, so there’s that.) These are all things that worked before, and they work just as well – if not better – here.
What’s different this time around, what with the longer runtime and more room to breathe, is that the film is also full of aching, tugging, occasionally wrenching heart. The emotional undercurrent of Marcel’s journey to find his long-lost family after two years of separation sings with heft and gravity. There’s a pathos here about shell communities and how they came to be, and within that pathos lies an intimate story not only about Marcel seeking his literal family, but about filmmaker Dean Fleischer-Camp coming to grips with what’s become of his own. A24 has always been pretty good about using creative and outlandish stories to tell personal tales of grief, love, loss, pain, and all sorts of other things, but in Marcel, those personal tales are the driving force of the entire film. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On isn’t so much about the adventure aspect as it is about the reflection upon it – how long it can take, how impatient one can become, how frustrating it can be to feel so far from the goal line. Too few adventure films explore just how tiresome for their protagonists the adventure can really be, the toll it can take on whatever hope one began with, eventually leaving one resigned and burnt out. But that’s the thing about indie adventure stories, isn’t it? Whatever resignation the character feels, there is always hope that remains, and Marcel understands this without calling overt attention to it.
The one thing that can be said about Marcel in terms of having any flaws at all is that its technical presentation doesn’t do a lot to stand out from the shorts on which it’s based. In fact, the entire movie can sometimes feel as if it was constructed specifically for an online space, unlike another YouTube/comic sensation – Bo Burnham – whose movie Eighth Grade (also an A24 film) tackles the culture of the internet without ever feeling as if it may have been constructed via the internet. To that end, the filmmaking itself could have used a little more heft in terms of the ways in which some scenes are shot, but in keeping with the style of its source material, it does ground the viewer in a familiar setting, so it’s a drawback easily forgiven, and unlikely to bother anyone not actively attentive to those kinds of things.
In the end, there’s not a whole lot to say about Marcel’s latest adventure that hasn’t already been said and no corner of his world left unexplored by interested parties. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On may not be as poetic as Moonlight or as creative as Everything Everywhere All at Once, but it is every bit as worthy and reverent of the A24 logo in its opening credits as those are. (And truthfully, what movie can say the same thing about either of those other two?) This summer is chock full of huge releases from a lot of major players in the studio system, but it may be A24 who walks away the victor of the indie scene in 2022, what with that second mentioned film and this. Whatever the case, viewers would remiss to miss this one in the wake of the other three major releases this weekend. Sure, Marcel likely won’t blow your mind, but it’s more than worth whatever time you have to give it. What a lovely, heartwarming experience.
I’m giving “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” an 8.2/10
- The Friendly Film Fan
The Friendly Film Fan reviews A24's latest horror feature from returning director Ti West.
Over the weekend, a new horror film from indie powerhouse A24 released, entitled “X” (yes, that’s the whole title). This comeback of director Ti West is a 70s-set picture about a group of young people setting out to make what it is referred to in the film as “a good dirty movie” – porn and prestige filmmaking all in one place. It stars the likes of Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Brittany Snow, Scott Mescudi, Martin Henderson, and Owen Campbell. As the group arrives to a distant farmhouse, they are shown the boarding house where they’ll be allowed to stay. But something strange is going on with the land’s owner and his wife, and it will be up to this band of merry misfits to either determine what’s happening…or to survive it.
In as few words as I can put it, X is a good movie, to a fault. It takes some big swings, and mostly makes those into hits by being as bold and brash with its material as it could possibly be. The ride only gets wilder the longer it goes on – but don’t expect that wildness to hold all the way to the end. There’s a lot that works here, but there’s often almost as much that works against it, though to explain why may give away the game in some capacity. I’m not sure it’s even entirely possible to review it in any certain terms without spoiling it, but being that it did just release, I will do my best on that front. The truth is that the film is noticeably style over substance, although one doesn’t pick up on that right away. The allusions to old horror classics like the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre are obvious, but the film itself pretty much leaves them at that – allusions. The rest of it is filled with a lot of aggrandizing filmmaking – though one can tell director West is not aggrandizing himself; rather, he is aggrandizing the horror films of the 70s and 80s through his directorial style. That sweaty, summer-toned, sexy look is all over every scene of X, regardless of whether what we’re show is the film itself or the movie being made within it. In all this aggrandizing, however, whatever substance the movie has is pushed further downwards; it’s definitely still there, but it’s very much not at the forefront of the story here.
Is there a story here? There’s certainly a narrative: characters interact with each other and the world around them, things happen to them, they happen to things, there’s a clear beginning, middle, and end. But what is the movie trying to say exactly? That it is, in fact, possible to make a good dirty movie? Perhaps, and if that is indeed the point, consider X a success in that regard, but I won’t pretend to have loved it where I mostly just really enjoyed it, and part of that lack of infatuation with it does come down to the fact that the message of it doesn’t seem to be any deeper than “this is a slasher like the old ones you knew, and it doesn’t need to be anything else.” Many may call that simple or unpretentious, but for myself, I was still left wanting a little more.
However, that’s not to say that X doesn’t give us plenty of scenery to chew on. Its sexually-charged, hyper-stylized first half is a real treat to see, every performance toing the line between unhinged and charismatic – subtle or otherwise – and each scene laying down small but notable groundwork for how the rest of it is going to play out. Unfortunately, that incredibly singular first half with all its unexpected direction and character turnings eventually gives way to a second half that is essentially all horror with very little in the way of flourish. Once this thing morphs into a straight-up slasher (though with a noticeable wrinkle in that subgenre), all that sexy 70s-style pizzaz turns off like a light switch, as if a second movie has entered the fray; a good movie, to be sure, but one that feels a little bit at odds with what preceded it, stylistically at least. One part Texas Chainsaw meets The Nice Guys, and the next minute, a Halloween movie with an alternate Michael Myers.
And that’s really where the main problems lie. Despite all the good will it builds within the horror genre, and regardless of how many times Brittany Snow or Scott Mescudi end up stealing the whole show, that show never really gets around to defining what it really wants to be or be about. The words of the Sheriff at the end of the film (the main story takes place between a prologue and epilogue) ring in the audience’s ears: “one goddamn fucked up horror picture.” But is that really all X wants to be in the end? Perhaps, and perhaps that’s a fair shake, given how thoroughly A24 has been both largely praised and widely blamed for the rise of “elevated horror.” But just because a movie works on its own terms doesn’t mean that it couldn’t work on better ones.
Regardless of all the complaints I’ve made and issues I’ve attempted to address, I still thoroughly enjoyed myself watching X. Sure, it may be style over substance, but boy oh boy, that style sure is infectious. Maybe this is the move A24 needed to make in order to be done with “elevated” horror and simply produce something that doesn’t have to think about deeper meanings or the next way grief can be explored in some witch ceremony or ancient demon book. Maybe a straight-up slasher was the right move for a studio so associated with one kind of horror to make, and whether you love the idea of “elevated” horror or not will likely have a lot to do with how you view Ti West’s return to the silver screen. All that said, this one is still worth checking out, and it’s definitely the most fun, stylish piece of media in theaters right now that doesn’t feature a man beating up thugs in a batsuit.
I’m giving “X” a 7.9/10
- The Friendly Film Fan
Film critic in my free time. Film enthusiast in my down time. Writer for Bitesize Breakdown.