When Marnie Was There
Based on the English children's book of the same name, Anna is a child living with foster parents who are worried for her health and why Anna has closed herself off to them recently. They decide to send Anna to live with some family friends in Hokkaido for the summer where Anna is immediately enchanted by the old, isolated Marsh House. As Anna sneaks over to the house one night she runs into the girl who lives there, Marnie, and the two of them form a tight friendship. But everyone else believes that the Marsh House has been vacant for years, even though Anna has seen the lavish parties that Marnie's parents are holding. As the summer goes on Anna begins to realize that Marnie's life isn't the fairytale life it first appears and Anna finds some closure in her own life.
I had a hard time relating to Anna in this film and that meant that I just didn't like this film in the end. It's entirely a character-driven story and when you just don't sympathize, or at some points understand, with the lead and their actions there's not much left to enjoy instead. Stories like this make me reflect on the fact that I was a very easy child to raise in some ways, even when my family went through problems I reacted very differently than Anna (partially because I was simply older) so I feel like I lacked common ground to really understand her. There were certainly a few times in the movie where Anna lashed out at others and I could understand why, but most of the time Anna would simply go out and do something in a way that didn't make sense to me.
The set-up of the movie didn't help me out either, I'm trying to keep this review spoiler-free so pardon me for being a bit vague. Studio Ghibli incorporates a lot of fantasy elements into their stories but they also have stories that are more realistic. Even in their fantasy films they are typically pretty careful to code when something is real and when something is a dream, like a few of the scenes in Spirited Away, and they were a bit sloppier this time around. When I saw the movie I assumed it was supposed to be 90-95% realistic with a few, unexplained elements. Viewing the story this way, it feels like a deus ex machina level of coincidence that Anna's life intertwined with Marnie's during her summer vacation (I can think of one way/reason for why this works but it's a real stretch). If you saw the movie and thought it was more supernatural/fantasy then you probably don't have this problem, saying that there was an unexplored, but magical, reason for the two girls to meet would tighten up the story but that just wasn't the impression I got from the film while watching it.
In short, the set-up for this story and it's execution felt sloppy to me and, lacking a firm foundation, Anna's character didn't work for me either. But I also know that I'm in the minority here, I ran into a friend at the movie (different friend) who liked it more than me, and at one of the movie's emotional climaxes there was a kid who started absolutely wailing. My friend thinks that they woke up at that point and were fussing, based on the timing I think the story became a little too emotionally intense for an elementary school student and that they were reacting to it very genuinely. If the story had been a little less coy I think I would have liked it more, although I don't think that would make me love it since Anna would still be a very different person than I am. It's been quite a few years since I've felt like a Ghibli film had truly strong writing so by now it's less of a disappointment when I don't like their latest offering, although I am sad that it seems like I found Ghibli after their peak.