Marvelous and the Black Hole2022.
Written and Directed by Kate Tsang.
Starring Miya Cech, Rhea Perlman, Leonardo Nam, Kannon, Paulina Lule, Keith Powell, Lauren Knutti, Aris Alvarado, Raymond McAnally, Beth Hall, Lucy DeVito, Jae Suh Park, and Jonathan Slavin.
A teenage delinquent teams up with a surly children’s party magician to navigate her dysfunctional family and inner demons.
From the very beginning of writer and director Kate Tsang’s Marvelous and the Black Hole (her narrative debut feature, which premiered at last year’s Sundance), 13-year-old Sammy (Miya Cech) is having a rough go in life; she is still in a state of depression following the loss of her mother, she disapproves of her father (Leonardo Nam) finding the strength to move on and find a new flame (Paulina Lule), is disconnected from her well-meaning gamer older sister (Kannon), and she doesn’t seem to care much about her summer school business course, often not completing assignments and sometimes outright ditching class. Additionally, Sammy doesn’t take therapy seriously and has also reached a point in rebellious behavior that her father is faced with no other choice but to send her to a school for troubled children.
Then Sammy crosses paths with kids party musician Margot (Rhea Perlman), who recognizes the young girl is grieving by lashing out at the world (also noticing some minor self-harm in the form of X-shaped mini-sized markings on her legs) . She also gives Sammy a bit of a request; either come and watch one of the magic shows or be brought before the school faculty for both ditching and smoking cigarettes on the property. Naturally, Sammy finds it challenging to care about magic or how the tricks are accomplished, whether it is common disappearing and reappearing stunts or flowers blooming on Margot’s quirky outfit.
Theoretically, everything mentioned above offers a lot to pull from when drawing this struggling teenager. However, Marvelous and the Black Hole consistently feels overwritten even when acknowledging this is the behavior of a teenager. As a result, much of it feels forced, unwieldy, and barely defined. It also can’t seem to decide if it wants to be family-friendly or something edgier (the film mostly settles for the former, which makes the occasional f-bomb or joking reference to violence jarring). I can only presume Kate Tsang has a background in magic since those aspects and scenes are executed with charm and wonderment, but there is much left desired when it comes to the writing of these characters.
At a brisk 81 minutes, the script also finds a way to portray Sammy as flat-out unlikable over time, even if there is empathy regarding her pain. Some stylistic flourishes such as black-and-white tidbits or artsy drawings plastered over the screen, namely when Sammy fondly reminisces on a story her mother used to tell, bring some welcome visual flair. But beyond the performance from Miya Cech that makes the most of this janky narrative, that’s about the only element connecting us to Sammy. Over time, she does open up to the prospect of magic tricks and the possibility of it as an outlet for coping, but there’s not much depth along the way and throughout that process.
There is also a third-act shift that reveals more of Margot’s life and back story, which is fitting and appropriate to the connection the mismatched duo forged. However, it’s also frustrating to watch Sammy’s journey briefly overshadowed. in the end, Marvelous and the Black Hole is nicely tied together, but the road there is overblown, surface-level, and comes dangerously close to rendering Sammy entirely unlikable. There is a powerful story inside here somewhere, but there’s not enough depth for the characters on the page.
Flickering Myth Rating – Movie: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★