“Marvelous and the Black Hole” is an endearing, sometimes amusing coming-of-age tale of teen angst, grief and prestidigitation.
It was conjured up by first-time feature director Kate Tsang, a writer of children’s TV (“Adventure Time,” “Steven Universe”) who transfers some of that absurdist whimsy to a story of an angry, motherless child finding an outlet when she meets a kids’ party magician.
This makes a fine vehicle for Nickelodeon starlet Miya Cech (“The Astronauts,” “Are You Afraid of the Dark”). Her Sammy has a biting, foul-mouthed bitterness, a child still mourning her lost mother and quick to lash out and use everything at her disposal, including her psychotherapy sessions, against her father, for instance.
“Dr. Klein says you’re mostly damaged from Grandma,” she sneers, when he lays out her choices of summer — a summer camp that she describes as “prison” and archival Army films footage depicts as a boot camp, or “community college classes.”
Dad (Leonardo Nam of the “Fast and Furious” franchise) seems distracted and depressed, perhaps not paying his older game-addicted daughter Patricia (Kannon) or Sammy enough attention, grasping at a new lady love (Pauline Lule) to fill the void in his own life.
The sisters are quarrelsome in the most vicious way, with Patricia turned into a “narc” as far as Sammy is concerned. But there’s nothing for it. “Prison” is out. “Intro to Small Business” it is.
Sammy is unfiltered and rude to pretty much everybody, a sullen, reject-the-world smoker at 14, unpleasant almost 24/7. After standing out as a brat in class, she stumbles into an overly-helpful older woman (Rhea Perlman of “Cheers,” “Matilda” and “Sunset Park”). Next thing the brat knows, she’s being dragged into a daycare as “assistant” to “Marvelous Margot” as she puts on her magic act for little kids.
Can the cynical teen find an “outlet” through the magic of the little old lady and her “Gathering of Scoundrels,” her little club of small-time local magicians?
Tsang finds lots of ways to insert playful fantasy into this fairly straightforward story.
The magician’s act has storytelling in it, a little nature parable with a bunny, flowers blooming out of her jacket and the like. Sammy’s nighttime ritual is listening to an old tape of her mother’s fanciful Princess of the Moon bedtime story, recreated in Sammy’s mind as a black and white silent film in the style of the vintage Asian sword and sorcery fantasies she likes to watch.
Perlman brings an easygoing charm to Margot, a character who feels both screen-written and real, a pragmatic working woman with a hint of “genuine” magic about her. She isn’t some “solve all of Sammy’s problems” lifeline, just a mother figure with a little to pass on — and receive — about “family” and “direction” and “making an audience feel something.”
There’s not a whole lot to this, but Tsang injects a lot of visual variety, and a few laughs, into “The Black Hole” that Sammy must magically extract herself from.
Rating: unrated, profanity, teen smoking
Cast: Miya Cech, Rhea Perlman, Leonardo Nam, Keith Powell, Kannon, Paulina Lule and Jonathan Slavin.
Kate Tsang. A FilmRise release.
Running time: 1:22