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Marvelous and the Black Hole connects two different people over magic and grief
by Jeremy Fogelman
Cast: Miya Cech, Rhea Perlman, Leonardo Nam, Kannon, Paulina Lule, Lauren Knutti, Aris Alvarado, Raymond McAnally, Keith Powell, Beth Hall, Lucy DeVito, Rubén Orozco, Jae Suh Park, Jonathan Slavin, Comedy
Usually your standard coming-of-age movies focus on two sorts of things, either gaining achievement in the high school world from your peers or gaining enlightenment through changes or realizations in yourself. Either can be any genre, but it’s always interesting to see a new take on the idea -- even if it’s one that isn't universally relatable, there’s always something to connect to if the movie works.
The unwieldy-named Marvelous and the Black Hole comes from director/writer Kate Tsang in her first feature film, having only directed shorts before this one -- but she’s done a lot of work in television writing. She’s mentioned that the movie has a strong personal connection to her, and that’s evident. Here we follow sullen teenage Sammy (Miya Cech), the younger of two sisters living with her older sister Patricia (Kannon Omachi) and father Angus (Leonardo Nam), who also has a fairly new, serious girlfriend Marianne (Paulina Lule) -- and all this after it’s clear that the mother has not been seen for a tragic reason.
We first see Sammy with blood on her face, angry and furious at the world -- her anger is incandescent and silent, bubbling off the screen and immediately connects us to her character. It is soon revealed that Sammy is in a summer community college business class, one that she must do well as directed by her father or will be sent to some sort of camp for unruly and troubled teens.
The class has a small enrollment, led by Leo (Keith Powell from 30 Rock) who is at his wits end about Sammy’s lack of participation. After one difficult exchange, Sammy runs into an older lady in the bathroom named Margot (Rhea Perlman), who immediately acts a bit parental, if offbeat, deriding the cigarettes Sammy is holding. Sammy also dismisses the woman, uninterested in any connection at all, but she ends up, against her will (blackmailed against being tattled on), having to help Margot with her magic show for local children.
Sammy enjoys it, despite herself, but is still distant, fighting with her sister at home and only comforting herself by listening to tapes her mother left of fanciful metaphorical stories of fantasy and darkness. But when she realizes she’s in danger of failing, she instead puts Margot’s contact info to use and tries to convince the magician to sign off. Naturally Margot, being a mentor character, isn’t willing to do that -- she says she’ll sign off only if Sammy can explain how she did her tricks.
Thus begins a charming sort of unlikely friendship between the young girl and the older woman, which is both somewhat problematic but never really feels like it’s anything more than both trying to deal with their grief with new family figures. Eventually you know things will get emotional enough to have a denouement of some sort, and hopefully a satisfying cathartic resolution.
Miya Cech is really superb in this role, with a kind of dark, crackling energy that plays off well against Rhea Perlman’s classic dry humor. The movie also dips into the more surreal at times, showing images of Sammy’s imagination in thoughtful ways -- you can really see the director’s background in animation connected here, intentional or not.
There’s an inherently odd sort of thing about the “young person mentored by older stranger” thing that is somehow common in pop culture but is really not something people would be so happy about in reality. Still, you can suspend your disbelief and connect more to this fictional rapport, one where everyone ultimately comes out better than they started.
Not everyone will be into this sort, especially with that problematic trope I mentioned, but if you can ignore that, you have a really engaging set of performances from these two and some fun side ones too. It might be something that’s cathartic even for yourself, I know the ending did touch me in at least some real way.
Marvelous and the Black Hole has a run time of 1 hour 21 minutes, and is not rated.
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