‘Marvelous and the Black Hole’ Magically Delights and Disarms
Kate Tsang’s directorial debut is what a lot of kids need right now. Not just kids but adults who think they’re adults, and kids who also think they’re adults. Marvelous and the Black Hole follows Sammy (Miya Chech), a teenager who can’t connect with anyone in her life after the passing of her mother. Her older sister has become obsessed with occupying a Minecraft/Stardew Valley-esque online world as a coping mechanism. Her father has moved on forming a new romantic relationship, lending them his full affections which leaves nothing but cold and firm detached interactions with Sammy. She doesn’t like her stepmother and in turn she finds difficulty connecting with Sammy. Her outlets are sparse, such as scribbling in her notebook and tattooing herself with stick-and-poke when anxiety sets in. Her only comfort arrives in the form of black & white wuxia films playing on TV late at night in her room as if on loop.
Sammy is in some kind of college/pre-college business course (which may be some kind of elective, based on how enthusiastic she is) that she coasts through. Entrepreneurship clearly doesn’t excite her and she can’t really think of a single passion to offer up as a viable option to monetize as something to focus on for her entire life. She ends up skipping class one day and runs into Margot (Rhea Perlman) as she’s on her way to a different classroom. Sammy ends up accompanying Margot to the class to help her. When they arrive Sammy realizes Margot is a magician, there to perform for the kids. Sammy starts to check out but Margot already has her partially figured out, then calling on her to bring her props to continue the show. Once the finale comes even stone-cold Sammy’s eyes glitter with wonder along with the much younger kids in the classroom, as Margot notices glancing across the classroom. She knows that she’s reached someone. That’s what Marvelous and the Black Hole aims to do here too, and it’s the persistence with which it argues that helps the film to reach us in the audience.
Sammy’s journey is one that Tsang feels especially qualified to chronicle. Her experience is funneled through Tsang’s aesthetically striking work, honed in both Adventure Time and Steven Universe. Hers is a voice unmistakably authentic but wise in doses that really do prove that brevity is the soul of wit. Where Sammy’s story couldn’t be told within the confines of a traditional film before Tsang manages to do it anyway with her own childhood influences, mixing media to show how storytelling shapes identities more than we realize, and while those who aren’t kids anymore love to demonstrate it we don’t have everything figured out. There are too many interests in life to just be satisfied with a single thing to do for the rest of our days. Sometimes even acknowledging this officially can offer a greater focus moving forward, especially with what new passion awaits right after. This is most emotionally exemplified in the finale of the film, where Sammy’s patchwork absorption of entrepreneurship, magic, and storytelling. Her need to connect just provides the glue to make every above mismatched ingredient stick together and unifies them in an uplifting way.
Marvelous and the Black Hole isn’t only helpful to the Sammys of the world; the film effectively reaches those who have already moved out of adolescence. It’s helped to make me think about how disconnected I felt from the world during those tumultuous early years, while reminding me of those who helped to understand and connect during that time. It’s almost never fully realized in the moment (which is most definitely a hormonal feature) so usually, well after they happen, events like these do eventually sink in. But it doesn’t have to be that way for everyone. If you become aware of the good intent and see what path that’s pushing you towards, it’s possible that natural resistance can subside. Tsang’s film does some important work in that regard to affirm the work you’ve put in is valid and shows the evidence of positive change.