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Sundance 2021 Review: Marvelous and the Black Hole – “Hitting the heartstrings when you least expect it”

Rhea Perlman and Miya Cech appear in Marvelous and the Black Hole by Kate Tsang, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Nanu Segal.

At thirteen years old Sammy (Miya Cech) is struggling.  The teenager is grief-stricken at the death of her mother, and takes it out on anyone around her, even herself by tattooing X’s into her skin when emotions run too high.  She’s alone in her pain and it’s summertime, only increasing Sammy’s isolation.  Even her sister Patricia (Kannon Omachi) has retreated into her video game world to cope.  In the midst of all of Sammy’s acting out her father Angus (Leonardo Nam) provides her an ultimatum – take a course at community college or get sent to Camp Sparrow Cliff, a harsh ‘reform’ school.

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Sammy ends up in a class for entrepreneurs (actually inspired by the director’s mother who once enrolled her in a summer accounting course).  The teacher encourages her to find her passion but Sammy really doesn’t have one, until a serendipitous encounter in the college bathroom.  Here she runs into Margot (Rhea Perlman), also known as Marvelous Margot when she’s working.  She is a magician, but also a quirky woman who hoards toilet paper like… well, like she’s preparing for a pandemic.  But, she sees some of her younger self in Sammy, namely the anger, and ends up taking her under her wing, sparking an unusual friendship that changes things for the both of them.

Marvelous and the Black Hole is the debut feature film from writer/director Kate Tsang whose objective was to create a movie that was about, “finding hope and resilience during tough times.”  What she created was that, and so much more – a film that also looks at the differing ways we process grief and the power of healing and friendship.  Tsang uses added elements of whimsical fantasy, often animated, that are blended into reality in what feels like an organic way.  The result is an increase in the sense of magic, even above and beyond what Margot can perform.

The film works best when the duo of Perlman and Cech are sharing the screen, their pairing a joy to watch.  Miya Cech (Are you Afraid of the Dark?) is a great discovery.  Her angsty turn as Sammy has an undercurrent of vulnerability which really lets you root for her to find happiness again.  Perlman is a delight, the former Cheers star bringing some grit to Margot, grounding this character despite her eccentricities and magical inclinations.

It might be said that Marvelous and the Black Hole sneaks up on you, hitting the heartstrings when you least expect it.  This unconventional coming-of-age story is charming, entertaining and, in the end, surprisingly moving.  Tsang seems to hit all the marks in a more creative way than most movies of this genre.  At one point in the film, Margot explains to Sammy, “Magic is about making your audience feel something. Ideally a sense of wonder…” Mission accomplished.

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