Monday, February 1, 2021

Sundance with Abe: Marvelous and the Black Hole

I’m thrilled to be covering the Sundance Film Festival for the eighth time. This year, I’m not in Park City, Utah, but watching films virtually and reviewing them as soon as I can.

Marvelous and the Black Hole
Directed by Kate Tsang

It’s fair to expect children to act out after experiencing a loss. They may feel a sense that they have been robbed of something their peers get to have, and might shift to rebellious behavior to make their unhappiness and disappointment heard. Parents and guardians can respond in a number of ways, providing support and encouragement while also trying to keep them on the right path. Not all strategies will be successful, and, to ensure that one significant change doesn’t completely derail any progress they might achieve in the future, they may be forced to turn to more desperate and corrective options.

Sammy (Miya Cech) is not making great choices. After the death of her mother, the thirteen-year-old, who feels overly controlled at home by her older sister Patricia (Kannon) and her father Angus (Leonardo Nam), frequently gets herself into trouble. Faced with the prospect of being sent to a boot camp meant to scare her straight, she puts little effort into a last-ditch alternative summer class. Instead, she meets Margot (Rhea Perlman), a charismatic magician, feigning interest in that career as an excuse for skipping class. Despite initially mocking Margot, she soon becomes intrigued by the art she practices and drawn in by the idea of learning more about it.

This film has a great style to it, opening with imaginative illustrations that represent the frustration Sammy feels with having to accept her life, particularly her father’s new girlfriend, Marianne (Paulina Lule), who she imagines sawing in half as part of a trick that involves no illusions. Whenever the boot camp is mentioned, Sammy flashes to archive footage of military training and other miserable scenarios. There is something about the flair of performing magic that entrances her, even though it at first seems like a petty activity that can delight only young, gullible children.

Cech is a spirited performer, infusing Sammy with such negative energy that makes her transformation into someone who does finally care about something more than complaining about everything delightful to watch. Perlman, an established screen veteran, is an endearing mentor, someone who never asked for a protégé but is happy to steer someone she sees as misguided or lost towards something that can be meaningful. Nam and Kannon complement a strong film that’s warm, entertaining, and funny, full of creativity and just the right amount of oddity to make it work.


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