SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! The framework for Kate Tsang’s Marvelous and the Black Hole is entirely familiar, exploring territory many films have dealt with before. Navigating tried-and-true terrain is not an immediate detriment to a movie because it gives a filmmaker the opportunity to bring their voice and vision to a story. This is something Tsang accomplishes with her sweet and affectionate feature-length debut (she previously directed five shorts).
Thirteen-year-old Sammy Ko (Miya Cech) is having a difficult time. Not only is she trying to explore the trials and tribulations of being a teenager, but her mother also passed away, and her father (Leonardo Nam) has started dating again. Sammy and her sister Patricia (Kannon) cope with their new lives in different ways. Sammy has resorted to rebelling in any way she can, skipping classes, smoking in the school bathroom, and even sporting a black eye caused when she hit a door while running away from school security.
“Sammy, defiant as ever, shows up late, skips classes, and, while doing so, meets Margot…”
Sammy’s father has had enough of her erratic behavior and decides to enroll her in a summer course called “Intro to Small Business” at a community college. She must attend every class and pass, or he will send her to boot camp. Sammy, defiant as ever, shows up late, skips classes, and, while doing so, meets Margot (Rhea Perlman). Margot is a magician who forces Sammy to help her with one of her demonstrations, which evolves into an unlikely mentorship, which in turn sees the pair become friends.
The young person/ older person dynamic of Marvelous and the Black Hole has been played up many times before for wacky laughs such as St. Vincent and The Way, Way Back. Of course, the mentor/ mentee trope has been used for dramatic purposes since time immemorial. Tsang strikes the right balance between quirky and something more tender. Her tonal shifts between comedy and character study never clash, which gives the film a fun, sensitive, humanistic touch. Marvelous and the Black Hole never feels like it panders to either character and how they desperately need to learn from one another.
Cech has a handful of acting credits to her name already, but Marvelous and the Black Hole is the kind of movie that will garner her loads of attention. Sammy comes off as very frustrating, but Cech imbues the character with a layer of understanding and empathy. She is at a crossroads in her life, having experienced a tragedy that no young person should. How can we judge her for her behavior? Tsang and Cech work together to present Sammy as someone who is hurting, not someone seeking to cause chaos in every moment of her life. Cech is the heart of the film and coupled with her chemistry with Perlman, Marvelous and the Black Hole emerges as a sweet coming of age tale, worthy of experiencing, even if you feel like you’ve seen it all before.
Marvelous and the Black Hole screened at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.
"…Cech imbues the character with a layer of understanding and empathy."