Sundance 2021: Kate Tsang's Magical 'Marvelous and The Black Hole'
by Alex Billington
February 2, 2021
For as long as I've been attending the Sundance Film Festival (since 2007), coming-of-age films have been regular part of their line-up. Year after year, indie coming-of-age flicks premiere at the festival and most of them are quite good… but not always. The coming-of-age concept is always enjoyable and a good setup for new filmmakers, for many reasons, but often because it allows the filmmaker to express their authenticity and their creativity in order to make their particular story unique. The worst kind of coming-of-age films are the formulaic ones with nothing new to add or say. But the ones that risks, and are crafted with originality and ingenuity, always stand out. Kate Tsang's Marvelous and The Black Hole is one of the newest teen coming-of-age films from Sundance that really stands out, and I'm delighted to discover it this year. It's a very lightweight, easy-to-enjoy film about an angsty teen who finds some inspiration thanks to a new friend.
Written and directed by newcomer filmmaker Kate Tsang, making her feature directorial debut with this film, Marvelous and The Black Hole introduces us to high school teenager Sammy, played by Miya Cech (who's in The Darkest Minds and "The Astronauts"). She recently lost her mother, and isn't taking it very well, turning her profound sadness into anger and frustration - raging about everything and everyone. But one day she meets Margot, played by the exquisite Rhea Perlman, a small-time magician who entertains young kids for a living and that intrigues Sammy. The two strike up a friendship that helps them both cope with their current experiences in life, and (of course) teaches both of them to "grow up" and figure out a way forward. There's no intense or overwhelming emotions in the film bogging down the enjoyableness of it, it's just a sweet story of friendship and overcoming sadness. Sometimes we need this kind of lightness in a film.
More than anything else, I loved the dynamic between Sammy and Margot, and how this connection helps Sammy grow as a person. It's a bit cliche in the coming-of-age genre in that it's another mismatched pair – one is an aging, lonely adult, the other a high school teenager struggling with loss and irritability, but their connection is strong. The best part about the film is that Margot is a magician, and Tsang's magical touches (not only in Margot's shows for kids) throughout bring a magical feeling to the film itself. There's vignettes and fantasy escape moments that give it some spunk. And it has animated elements and magical flourishes and editing tricks that give it a distinct and satisfying edge over so many other conventional coming-of-age stories. This film rocks. It's quintessential Sundance coming-of-age but still so good. And even though I've seen this kind of film at Sundance before, I love discovering new creations that shine on their own anyway.
Of course, Marvelous and The Black Hole has some flaws. It's not perfect, and it doesn't need to be. But it's a nice little indie film that confidently establishes Kate Tsang as a filmmaker with a talent for originality and creativity. I always enjoy discovering these kind of debuts. The lightness of the film is part of what makes it so refreshingly enjoyable to watch. She really doesn't need to dip into exploring where all the rage and anger comes from, she doesn't need to throw in jarring twists and turns, it's meaningful and captivating enough the way it is. And it's the love for magic that makes it so endearing in addition to the coming-of-age story. The mystery and the excitement of magic is so powerful and it draws Sammy in, allowing her to understand the power of deception and trickery. She learns about herself in the process, and we get to enjoy a film filled with charm and confidence and honesty. And I'm already looking forward to whatever Kate Tsang does next.