If we’re lucky, we begin our lives in a community of warmth and acceptance, a family where our status as loved goes unquestioned. But as we age into adolescence, that haven is inevitably breached by doubt and distrust, as we begin to question our position in the world. Those questions are exacerbated when you’re an awkward teenager who finds it difficult to make friends.
Such is the case with Anna (Sara Takatsuki/Hailee Steinfeld), the protagonist of When Marnie Was There. She seems perpetually depressed; she has few friends and is beginning to mistrust her foster parents’ affections. A trip to the seaside draws her to an ancient, abandoned mansion, in which she discovers a world of decades past, with cocktail parties and glorious dresses. She discovers Marnie (Kasumi Arimura/Kiernan Shipka). She discovers a place where, for once, she feels welcome again.
When Marnie Was There’s hand-painted, achingly-gorgeous animation is suffused with an alluring ambiguity. Are Anna’s midnight meetings with Marnie mystical, spectral or entirely imaginary? The answers, once provided, lend added poignancy to this simple tale of the path back towards that ephemeral sense of acceptance. This is a simple, universal tale that will resonate with anyone who’s felt unloved.