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Landscape with Invisible Hand could’ve been a surrealist satire, but what starts out as a pointilist pastiche bleeds into a rather muted watercolor wallflower.

Portrait of Movie Shooting Self in Foot

Kylie Rogers and Asante Blackk
Kylie Rogers and Asante Blackk

Every once in a while, a movie comes along which raises an eyebrow and a question: Who’s it for?

With its themes surrounding the persistent, obsessive production and consumption of social media; a world and society in decline (by way of a very quirky alien invasion); economic disparities and the human race coming to terms with its most valuable asset – love – Landscape with Invisible Hand could play to wide appeal and particularly attract younger audiences.

But it turns into a strange case of arthouse ambitions undermining a movie’s full commercial potential. By virtue of its “R” rating, Landscape with Invisible Hand locks out that valuable key younger market segment. Here’s the irony of the whole thing: M.T. Anderson’s source novel is marketed as a book for young adults and targets audiences in the 14-17 age range.

Oops.

The “restricted” rating (in the U.S., meaning no one under 17 is supposed to see the movie without being accompanied by a parent or guardian) comes thanks to an abrupt, blink-and-miss-it scene of a suicide and some “strong” language. It seems so unnecessary. Certainly, some adjustments could’ve easily been made for this movie to lose nothing, gain a lot and reach a much larger audience with what is ultimately a thought-provoking, worthwhile message.

Simply cleaning up the language wouldn’t make Landscape a blockbuster, though. It still has issues as a by-product of director and screenwriter Cory Finley’s dry style, which yields a slow pacing and a failure to generate the emotional connection the movie desperately needs.

For a movie with so much in its sights, Landscape with Invisible Hand misses the mark by a country mile.

The Market (After First Contact)

Anderson describes the story as a satire on the need for perpetual self-promotion in today’s society. This concept comes into play as an alien race called the Vuvv invades Earth and upends virtually every aspect of life. As an example of the extremes society is exposed to, a neurosurgeon no longer has his practice, so he drives a golf cart in service to the Vuvv. The aforementioned suicide is a high school teacher who lost his (low-paying) job.

And then there’s Adam Campbell (Asante Blackk), a high schooler who’s been making thoughtful paintings since his early childhood. Adam meets Chloe Marsh (Kylie Rogers) in an art class and the two hit it off. They even start a business venture together: they begin a “courtship broadcast.” The broadcast is transmitted via their nodes, little doohickies stuck on the side of their heads that record so much of their lives, which ultimately serves as both education and entertainment for the Vuvv.

Ka-ching.

Just like a voyeuristic service for “fans only,” Chloe and Adam can track how many viewers they have and how much money they’re generating.

But, of course, with great popularity comes great pressure to curate the experience. Arguments don’t sell well, so the reality of their situation needs to quickly adapt to something palatable for the Vuvv.

As a reference point, the Vuvv have latched onto The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet as the aspirational mark for how all humans should behave. The Vuvv are creatures that resemble something strangely akin to canned hams with butt faces. They communicate by scraping their front pads together. They have no identifiable reproductive system. And, as such, they find the concepts of “love” and “romance” totally fascinating.

The Mothership, 2037

Tiffany Haddish and Asante Blackk
Tiffany Haddish and Asante Blackk

Landscape with Invisible Hand is itself an artful endeavor. The movie’s title is the name Adam gives a large mural he creates at the movie’s conclusion. The movie starts, though, with a series of paintings he’s made over the years, starting as a child in 2022 and entering his high school years in 2033, when the action begins. The narrative is broken into segments introduced with a titled painting by Adam that helps track his progress as an artist and the advancement of time in the story, which concludes in 2037. (Paintings by Atlanta-based artist William Downs are used as Adam’s work.)

It’s so thoughtfully done. It’s theme of resilience is so timely in this increasingly challenged post-Covid world, grappling with addictions to drugs and social media, fending off humanity’s own self-devastation and polarizing influences.

Still, with all its artistic ambitions and all the themes being sampled at its buffet of ideas, it’s disappointing Landscape never really finds itself as a movie experience. Even typically buoyant Tiffany Haddish, who portrays Adam’s mother, can’t break through in this subdued production.

Any work of art – such as a painting or a movie – is an invitation to appreciate the art, then contemplate it more fully. Sometimes that contemplation yields greater appreciation and sometimes, as with Landscape, that contemplation leads to greater disappointment.