‘Landscape With An Invisible Hand’ Review: An Appealing But Shallow Sci-Fi About Life Under Alien Rule

One travels to the Sundance Film Festival in the dead of winter for a number of reasons, chief among them the promise of a front-row seat to confident debuts like Cory Finley’s deliciously dark “Thoroughbreds.” Indeed, the playwright-turned-filmmaker proved to have an original voice with his first feature film outing in 2017, proving his promise with the equally sophisticated “Bad Education,” about an embezzlement scandal at a New York City public school. real life.

Marking Finley’s homecoming to Sundance, “Landscape with Invisible Hand” feels less like a comeback for the writer-director, and more like a swing-for-the-fences game with mixed results. On the one hand, this combination of impressively wide-ranging sci-fi and satire with a bit of old-school visual craft signals Finley’s natural aptitude for guiding big Hollywood productions, making it the largest-scale project of his still-rising career. . Refreshingly, “Landscape with Invisible Hand” looks and feels like a big-screen experience complete with spaceships and creatively designed dystopian sets, an increasingly rare achievement these days for young filmmakers operating outside of franchises. established. On the other hand, it makes one desperately miss Finley’s biting wit and X-Acto’s keen point of view on complicated and deeply flawed characters.

Adapting MT Anderson’s 2017 book, the writer-director sets the scene promisingly, presenting us with a near-future world of the 2030s, following “first contact” (a euphemism, insisted on by our overlords, for the Vuvv invasion, whereby humanity voluntarily surrendered to hyper-intelligent alien species. These technologically advanced pink creatures, which uncannily resemble squishy pink molars the size of stools, aren’t necessarily violent. But they do have an aggressive right to claiming a right over everyday human life, enabled both by a clueless government of bad policymakers and one might imagine, greedy, familiar types of tech billionaires who confuse wealth with competition.The economic outcome of this new order is depressing: the The rich appear to have secured wealthy positions to serve the Vuvv to the cities float tes, who cast a literal shadow over the less privileged who were left behind.

Finley gives us an early taste of this new social contract when a dirt-bound girl yells, “Park somewhere else!” as one of these floating communities drifts across the sky above your home. She is Nettie (Brooklynn MacKinzie), tending to her her makeshift garden alongside her teenage brother Adam (Asante Blackk, in an expressive performance), an amateur artist and the central figure of the story. The two brothers are raised by their single mother (Tiffany Haddish), a former lawyer who barely survives, like the rest of the once-middle-class humans, rapidly losing their jobs to Vuvv technology. (In a provocative early scene, the grim fate of a recently fired teacher depicts how horrible it all is for working people.)

Finley loses his picky handle on the material, allowing the most common story ideas to dictate his direction in unsurprising and slightly crude ways. Thematic boxes on class, race, capitalism, and environmental anxieties are generously but superficially revised throughout “Landscape,” becoming somewhat more acute after a homeless family moves in with Adam’s relatively fortunate family who at the same time less can afford a roof over their heads and blocks of unappetizing imitation food. — the livelihood produced by Vuvv provided to the poor.

The newcomers are Adam’s feisty classmate Chloe (Kylie Rogers), who spends her days scavenging discarded salable goods from sky cities, as well as her brother (a hilariously grumpy Michael Gandolfini) and father (a rather forgettable Josh Hamilton). In classic top-down style, tensions brew between the two clans, along with a sweet romance between Chloe and Adam. Soon, the duo decide to monetize their fledgling relationship by broadcasting it live to Vuvv, an asexual species who finds human love entanglements exotically alluring and will pay handsomely to listen to rituals like dating, hand-holding, and prom.

The couple’s scheme fails as expected, in the same way that an influencer romance overshared through social networks could do today. As they start faking their dwindling intimacy, a Vuvv supporter sues the family for forgery, a mess they can only get out of if Haddish’s no-nonsense mother agrees to marry a high-ranking alien who wants a taste of sitcom. . human life.

If it all sounds a bit too ridiculous, that’s because it is, until a hilarious wedding sequence in which a bridal Haddish is seen alongside her husband Vuvv in a traditional wedding ceremony. Like the rest of the humor in “Landscape,” this comedic scene seems funnier in concept than execution, a tone miscalculation that often makes it difficult to pace Finley’s wacky (but thankfully not cheesy) ambitions. . In fact, nothing about Vuvv’s strange appearance draws more than a chuckle or two, while her unique way of communicating with herself, by moving her annoyingly loud tentacles around, feels especially tedious. A much better comedian than dramatic actress, Haddish at least eases the film’s tedium somewhat, earning the goodwill (and laughter) of the audience when she shows her overbearing but harmless husband Vuvv of hers who’s boss she.

Elsewhere, the film rests on the shoulders of Lyle Vincent’s refined cinematography, Michael Abels’ playful zither score, and Blackk’s probing performance as an artist trying to make sense of uncertain times through his art. As the story clutters along, Adam’s paintings provide visual chapter breaks, giving the film a segmented structure that makes one wonder if the material could have been better served by a miniseries. In standalone film form, “Landscape” lacks sufficient world-building, leaning too much on the audience’s imagination, while its 101-level commentary can be summed up as vague warnings against the evils of capitalism.

On that front, Adam’s refusal to commercialize his art makes a statement. Although tempted, he simply won’t sell the most sacred part of his identity. Can the same be said of “Landscape”? In the end, Finley’s ambitious outing is just that: ambitious, without much else to back it up. Still, it’s encouraging to see clearly talented up-and-coming directors like Finley making big bets. As an ostensibly benevolent alien invasion, who’s to say if the human race is better off in the end?

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