January 31, 2021

SHOWBUZZDAILY Virtual Sundance Reviews: “Land,” “Together Together” & “Marvelous and the Black Hole”


MARVELOUS AND THE BLACK HOLE:  Goodhearted YA comfort food.  Kate Tsang’s feature debut is about 13-year old Sammy (Miya Cech), who has become surly and rebellious toward her father Angus (Leonardo Nam) and sister Patricia (Kannon Omachi) since the death of her mother.  Things become even worse when potential stepmother Marianne (Paulina Lule) enters the scene, as Sammy begins acting out with some low-grade vandalism and self-applied tattoos.  Her father is beginning to despair, when Sammy bumps into kids-party magician Margot (Rhea Perlman).  Will Sammy initially resist Margot’s attempts to reach out, but secretly be ever more intrigued with the challenges of mastering sleight of hand?  Will Margot and Sammy form a bond that helps Sammy through her sadness and anger?  Will there be a third-act crisis that resolves itself sweetly?  Well, yeah.  Tsang doesn’t seem to have any interest in reinventing the narrative wheel here, and the result is quite conventional by Sundance standards, other than in the mere fact that Sammy and her family are Asian-American and that her background is just part of her story and not the subject of the film.  At 81-minutes, Marvelous doens’t overstay its welcome, and the cast is charming.  Marvelous isn’t out to make anyone’s jaw drop, and it meets its modest goals.

TOGETHER TOGETHER (Bleecker Street):  Nikole Beckwith’s low-key dramedy explores the uniquely intimate relationship between a single man and the surrogate he hires to bear his child.  Matt (Ed Helms) is middle-aged and not in a romantic relationship when he decides that he wants to become a father, and Anna (Patti Harrison) is the 26-year old who takes the job.  What begins as a business transaction deepens into a friendship, while staying away from the rom-com cliche of going farther.  (Beckwith is at such pains to distinguish her film from others where older men become involved with younger women that she’s included a tonally jarring scene where Anna dissects the 1970s films of Woody Allen.)  Together Together is likable throughout, and key to that is the rapport between the stars.  It seems at first as though Helms may be too well-cast for his own good:  , cluelessness is often his default mode, and the early stretch of the film makes one worry that Matt will just be another in his line of such dim characters.  As the story develops, though, he’s allowed to stretch once Matt and Anna begin sharing their deeper feelings.  Harrison has her own sharp comic timing, and she brings strength to a less-defined role.  She and Helms ease through the transitions between comedy and more serious sequences.  Beckwith, whose last Sundance entry was the grim Stockholm, Pennsylvania, is in a lighter mode here, and an oddly abrupt ending aside, Together Together provides a pleasing time with some warmly-regarded characters.

LAND (Focus/Universal – February 12):  Robin Wright’s accomplished big-screen directing debut is simple without being simplistic.  Edee (Wright) is buckling under the weight of a tragedy that isn’t fully explained until the film’s end, and she decides to utterly abandon her big-city life and take up an entirely solitary existence in a mountain cabin in the wilds of Wyoming.  The first section of Land is virtually a one-woman show, as Edee attempts to survive her first winter in the wild.  The script by Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam then introduces Miguel (Demian Bichir), a nearby resident who brings Edee back to life both literally and figuratively, as they begin a friendship within the strictly circumscribed limits she’ll allow.  The conclusion doesn’t shy from sentimentality, but by then the film feels as though it’s earned its emotional pay-off.  Wright and Bichir bring compassion and force to their roles, and their scenes together have a flinty rapport.  Wright had no fear of physical challenge as a first-time feature director, with much of the film shot (by Bubby Bukowski) on glorious Canadian landscapes, a great deal of it in winter.  There’s a lovely score by Ben Sollee and Time For Three, and a refreshingly brisk pace (the running time with credits is just 89 minutes) set by editors Anna McCabe and Mikkel E.G. Nielsen.  Land is likely to be compared by some with Into the Wild and Wild, and Wright’s film doesn’t quite have the narrative engines or sustained intensity of those.  Nevertheless, it’s a skillful and often moving study of isolation and recovery.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."