When Marnie Was There Review: Initially Bold, But Ultimately Ordinary

Photo Credit:http://www.gkidsfilms.com/marnie/

Right from the opening scene, When Marnie Was There is unmistakably a Studio Ghibli film. Lush colors fill the screen like a painting come to life. Here, every bit of scenery is artful and inviting. The world always appears brighter when drawn by this studio. Sadly, there’s a chance this is their last film (the studio is going on hiatus with no set return date), and its narrative isn’t nearly as consistent as the art.

The film starts off well enough. Anna is a lonely 12 year old living with foster parents who only sees herself as a burden to those around her. Thus, she’s closed off her emotions and kept a straight face so as to not make a fuss. The folks over at Studio Ghibli continue to earn points for portraying youthful characters in an honest and real manner that outdoes any other films about kids I’ve ever seen. They’ve produced better examples of this (My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away obviously come rushing to mind), but When Marnie Was There still empowers its lead by making her deal with real issues within herself. There’s not another studio in the world to my knowledge that consistently uses young characters to challenge young and old audiences alike in such a deep and thoughtful manner.

Anna moves to the country to “get better” and ends up meeting Marnie, a mysterious young girl supposedly living in the abandoned mansion across the marshes. Marnie is the only one Anna seems capable of connecting with. They develop a loving and important friendship that borders on romantic (sometimes not so subtly). But, this film being based on a book, there’s a twist at the end that makes the LGBT subtext very awkward, to the point where it almost ruins the film. What first seemed like one of Studio Ghibli’s most forward-thinking pieces ever suddenly looks like no one wanted to tell the director how audiences would perceive this character dynamic.

Luckily, Anna’s overall arc comes out relatively undamaged once the twist is in place, but there’s a lot of uncomfortable things about the way she and Marnie interact. Delving any further would head into spoiler territory, but if you see it, it’ll be unmistakable what I’m talking about.

So as what could possibly be this history making studio’s last film, When Marnie Was There features a lot of the same things that made what came before it great. But the narrative trip-ups are gaping. Here’s to hoping this hiatus isn’t the end and Studio Ghibli returns to the iconic storytelling that they’re known for. Grade: B

By Matt Dougherty

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