As of late, many films focused on or around aliens and the extraterrestrial seem to fail or underuse these otherworldly creatures. Most recently, Asteroid City had a hilarious alien orbiting around its oddball characters, yet was featured for under five minutes total. Landscape with Invisible Hand does not make this mistake, involving the creatures from the offset, and never neglecting them throughout the runtime. Featuring an interesting mix of up-and-coming talent with comedy veterans sprinkled in, this is one seriously bizarre sci-fi comedy that never fully comes together as a satisfying whole. Nevertheless, writer/director Cory Finley presents intriguing ideas about consumerism, familial roles, and the middle class.
The year is 2035—five years ago, aliens made first contact with Earth. Now, they are practically running it all, at least behind the scenes. Their technology has helped advance many aspects of industrial efficiency leading to a “new era of prosperity.” All of this is according to helpful semi-animated instructional videos and node-based classroom sessions that are replacing the jobs of teachers the world over. Millions of humans have found their jobs turn obsolete and have lost their homes. Food now comes from synthetic cow cells in a mold. Much of this feels like it is also commenting on the increased reliance on artificial intelligence in the modern world. Faux does not mean real. The introduction presents a bleak worldview, culminating in a teacher heading outside the school and shooting himself in the head. Prosperity, indeed.
Adam (Asante Blackk) lives with his sister, Natalie (Brooklynn MacKinzie), and their mother, Beth (Tiffany Haddish), who are just trying to make ends meet to keep a roof over their heads. Adam stares up at the clouds for inspiration in crafting his innumerable art pieces, whilst Natalie has immersed herself in the world of gardening. At school, a casual flirtation with Chloe (Kylie Rogers) become something far more interesting. Between hotel stays and floating from place to place with her father, Mr. Mash (Josh Hamilton), and her annoying brother, Hunter (Michael Gandolfini), Chloe and her family view Adam as being rather well-off. Adam extends an invitation for them to stay indefinitely at his place. Chloe tries to make money to pay them by scavenging for “luxury items” she tries to sell at school for profit, but no one will bite. She proposes an idea to Adam: if they can participate in a courtship broadcast, perhaps they can make extra money for both of their families to stay afloat. The aliens, who find human romance exotic and interesting, will pay them to go on dates and see how they blossom. Live streaming a relationship already sounds like a recipe for disaster without adding in the caveat of a giant alien audience watching one’s every move.
Landscape with Invisible Hand plays with interesting family dynamics between Adam and Chloe’s single parent and one sibling, but the movie is at its best when the aliens come into the picture. An expert in both law and human mating rituals, “Shirley,” sets out to sue Adam and Chloe for deceiving their viewers when their budding relationship goes on the rocks. As depicted, the aliens are extremely odd. They speak in weird clicking noises through slapping together their strange hands. They walk around on the ground like dogs, and their understanding of human behavior is questionable at best. The aliens are both the single most baffling and single most successful element of the film.
Adam’s art eventually becomes a major plot point, as the movie takes its time to define the medium on which he has painted, as well as the type of paint he uses. Adam’s artwork portrays a level of loneliness that is surprising to see coming from someone in their teenage years. The emphasis of importance to his works confounds, mainly because it feels there is simultaneously not enough and too much focus on it. Landscape with Invisible Hand spreads itself very thin because it tries to do far too many things at once. Does it want to be an eerie parable on capitalism and greed, or is the focus on the racial and class division amongst humans? A lack of consistency frustrates just as often as it entertains. Despite being far from perfect, Landscape with Invisible Hand delivers big laughs and preposterous social commentary.
Landscape with Invisible Hand slaps flaps in theaters on Friday, August 18th.