And besides, how hardened can a teenager be if she’s wowed by magic tricks? That’s the bet that Margot (Rhea Perlman), a semi-successful kids’ birthday party magician, takes when she catches Sammy smoking in the girls’ room at the community college where Sammy’s dad is forcing her to take a business class. (Sammy’s “Ghost World”-esque business idea? A door-to-door euthanasia service.) Margot sees something in this wounded, rebellious child, and gives Sammy exactly what she needs: A non-judgmental space where she can process her anger about her mother’s death and learn how to make playing cards disappear.
“Marvelous and the Black Hole” is about grief, yes. Sammy’s family dynamics, including her father’s eagerness to move on and her sister Patricia’s (Kannon) escapist obsession with an online role playing game called “Kingdom Cog,” do factor into the story. It’s also about cultural identity: Sammy falls asleep at night listening to a tape recording of her late mother reading a Chinese fairy tale, and a section in a magic book about “Oriental mysteries” makes her question whether she belongs in Margot’s world at all. But most of all, “Marvelous and the Black Hole” is a film about how creativity can carry us through the toughest of times.
The film unfolds at a gentle pace, full of colorful, non-threatening characters who treat Sammy with the kindness she needs but can’t appreciate right now. Keith Powell, aka Toofer from “30 Rock,” co-stars as Sammy’s exasperated community college professor, alongside Paulina Lule as Sammy and Patricia’s gracious soon-to-be-stepmom. The collection of eccentrics that make up Marvelous Margot’s secret society of conjurers is similarly wholesome: In an initiation ritual full of smoke and bombast, Margot asks Sammy if she brought a “worthy snack” to their magical salon. (That being said, one of them served two months in prison for cheating at a casino, which Sammy thinks is awesome.)