Sundance: “Thoroughbreds” and “Bad Education” director Cory Finley made his first misstep with this breathless satire on foreign capitalism.
Cory Finley’s highly gratifying quest to make every high school movie imaginable—at a time when few other serious filmmakers are bothering to make any kind of high school movie—continues with the young director’s third feature and first misstep. Like “Beasts” and “Bad Education,” “Landscape with Invisible Hand” uses the ecology of American adolescence to create a satirical and/or breathtakingly sad class comedy that explores the value of empathy in capitalism. Unlike either movie is full of slimy little aliens that look like frozen supermarket turkeys made of tongues.
They’re called Vuvv (rhymes with “love”, not “Clicquot”), and by the time this story begins in 2036, these chubby pink colonists have been holding Earth’s economy hostage for over five years. They didn’t take over the planet by blowing up the White House or terrorizing major cities with tripods, but simply disrupted the tech sector with enough otherworldly means until the human race was forced to accept the cold vision of the Vuvv. or preserve their remaining dignity below the poverty line.
“It’s a great time for entrepreneurs!” says one Bret Baier-looking bootleg who anchors Fox News’ equivalent of Vuvv. If its nauseating catchphrase is characteristic of a breathless film in which the satire is often too blunt to be funny and the drama too contrived to be poignant, it also reinforces the film’s increasingly sympathetic interest in examining the human species’ hierarchy of needs. Food and shelter are the first, but not everyone wants to be an entrepreneur – not everyone wants to give up the analog pleasures of staying alive just because they might share a little of the profits.
Budding young artist Adam Campbell (Asante Blackk) was raised by a now-absent father who chose the latter and fell, but our still-defiant hero is happy to carry on that legacy if he can afford it. But he can’t. His mother (Tiffany Haddish) is perpetually unemployed, unable to pay the electric bill in the family’s crumbling New England home, and the crap at school is increasingly depressing; borrowing its title from MT Anderson’s novel of the same name, and one of several paintings Finley uses to succinctly establish the film’s timeline and background, “Landscape with the Invisible Hand” opens with Adam’s homeroom teacher shooting himself in the head after the entire film. The profession is being made obsolete by Vuvv tech.
In this case, the technology is the fridge-magnet-like node that humans wear on their foreheads to receive telepathic signals—and Vuvv history lessons—from their alien bosses. But the nodes can also beam back signals, which Adam and his opportunistic new girlfriend Chloe (Kylie Rogers) take advantage of when they begin broadcasting their courtship to a high-paying audience of strangers smitten with human love.
An extra twist: Adam invited Chloe, his grumpy brother (Michael Gandolfini) and their father (Josh Hamilton) to move out of their car into his mother’s basement. She’s nice that way, and her new boarders seem nice enough, but Adam is too young to appreciate the conditional kindness that desperation breeds. Although the creators of VuvvTube allow the couple a taste of the agency once enjoyed by wealthier people, it soon becomes apparent that Chloe is less interested in love than money, which is a problem not only for Adam, but for the others as well. . Vuerek back home – these aliens get off on credibility and sue anyone who tries to fake it for the cameras. And they start with Adam and Chloe.
“Landscape with the Invisible Hand” hinges on the fact that humans are a highly adaptable species, but at the same time, they prioritize the things we cannot live without. Despite the film’s lack of violence, there’s something righteous and a little unsettling about how unafraid the characters are of the sentient but hyper-advanced alien race that could theoretically vaporize the entire planet with the push of a button.
The Vuvvs themselves are designed for absurdity rather than fear (they look like something Kurt Vonnegut would sketch on a restaurant napkin), but there’s a crude violence to the language they scrape out by rubbing the Brillo pads together at the end of their squidgy tentacle arms. . – enough that the second half of the story, in which a Vuvv moves in with Adam’s mom and acts as the “man” of the house, is suffocated by too much tension. While Haddish’s casting serves as a helpful reminder that this is supposed to be funny rather than scary, the helplessness baked into this sci-fi tale of economic surrender gradually turns into a dying sense of dread that drowns out most of the laughs.
“Landscape with Invisible Hand” calls for a little less spectacle than Finley’s previous efforts, which relied on a remarkable degree of control to weave conflicting voices into something greater than the sum of their parts, but the writer-director doesn’t pull it off. anything to compensate for his missing virtuosity. Here, Finley often seems at the mercy of the strangeness of his material. He stages most scenes with a vacuum flatness, as if unsure of how else to focus our attention on what drains the life out of the film’s world, and his cast – who so far can only strain the collective frustration of their characters – remain. there’s not much to do but lean into the anti-drama of intergalactic domination.
Hamilton is the only one to have fun with the backtracking, as the “Eighth Grade” actor subverts his gently paternal image by playing Chloe’s dad as the ultimate Elon Musk answer guy, willing to do or wear anything. recognized by his new business gods. His character soaks up Vuvv with remarkable speed and silliness the millisecond he gets the chance, his sitcom self-abasement suggesting that “Landscape with the Invisible Hand” might have gone deeper as a story about surrendering to heartless capitalism than a story. about someone finding a way to resist it in their own time. It’s a story that Finley has told before, and I can’t wait for him to tell it again in some other form. But it’s hard to buy the socio-economic power of Adam becoming his artistic self in a film whose director can’t stop Vuvv from destroying what makes his own work special.
“Landscape with the Invisible Hand” premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. MGM will release it in theaters later this year.
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