Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Marvelous and the Black Hole perfectly fills the void, delivering a sweet and poignant coming-of-age friendship story. Writer/director Kate Tsang, known for her work on Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe, brings a quirky and personal touch. Onscreen doodles convey character emotions, a trend I’ve noticed in a few festival films this year like Ninjababy and Inbetween Girl. The heartfelt relationship between Sammy (Miya Cech) and Margot (Rhea Perlman) makes this an instant must-see film. 

Sammy is going through a tough time after the death of her mother, and no one around her seems to understand. Her behavior is becoming more erratic, so Sammy’s dad (Leonardo Nam) forces her to enroll in a summer course to help get back on track. Sammy barely takes it seriously—when talking about young entrepreneurs, she suggests “a euthanasia service that comes to your door” as a viable business option—and meets magician Margot after storming out of class. First, Sammy becomes Margot’s temporary assistant, reluctantly absorbing information she will need to complete a school project. Sammy begs her sister, Patricia (Kannon), to cover for her as her missed classes begin piling up. The unconventional friendship between Margot and 13-year-old Sammy sparks surprising changes and insurmountable personal growth.

Sometimes, you can just tell when you start a film that you’re going to love it, and Marvelous and the Black Hole fulfilled this duty for me. The colorful, varied, and exciting visual style awes with its unique specificity. An outfit of Margot’s that blossoms beautiful flowers is stunning to behold and packed with hidden meaning. A fantasy sequence in which Sammy envisions a “magic act” where she saws her stepmother-to-be in half is blood-spattered and violent, made complete with Margot’s comment: “that’s not magic, it’s murder.” Another I loved is a black and white sequence where Sammy rides a giant bunny, like Falkor from The Neverending Story, presenting a childlike sense of glee. Every visual cue is an essential and adorable facet to the narrative.

Both Sammy and Margot are interesting and nuanced characters. Miya Cech’s Sammy is profoundly affected by Margot, her walls breaking down that she has had up since her mother’s passing. Sammy has a recording of her mother telling a story that she listens to constantly as a source of comfort. Her dad is remarrying after only knowing his bride-to-be for less than six months, slathering on another layer of confusion and frustration for Sammy. Through magic, Sammy is able to discover a delightful distraction that helps her channel emotions and work through them maturely. 

On the flipside, Margot has such a sad and complicated backstory. She loves making kids smile and finds the joy in her life through spreading it to others. She runs her own little magic group, called the Gathering of Scoundrels, that Sammy yearns to join. In Sammy, Margot sees so much in common and does her best to help steer Sammy in the right direction. Rhea Perlman is absolutely amazing in this role, exuding a hopeful and caring attitude that makes Margot easy to fall in love with. If I had to pinpoint a weakness overall, the only thing that comes to mind is the lessened presence of Margot in the final act. It reminded me in part of the way 1996’s Harriet the Spy sidelines Ole Golly when she steps away from her nanny duties. Thankfully, Marvelous remedies this during the ending itself, but I definitely missed seeing Margot pop up for some crucial moments in Sammy’s story. 

Marvelous and the Black Hole is an ensemble film, driven by Sammy’s vibrant new friendship with friendly magician Margot. While the narrative isn’t filled with shocking twists, the honesty, impactful family drama, and wholesome sweetness of Margot and Sammy’s platonic relationship make it a gem worthy of its marvelous title. The magic sparkles in nearly every frame of Kate Tsang’s fantastical coming-of-age drama. 

Marvelous and the Black Hole screened at the 2021 Atlanta Film Festival, April 22nd – May 2nd.

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