'Landscape with Invisible Hand' Review
August 16, 2023
Aliens have invaded Earth! They came from the sky, descending upon our mortal world after sensing our weaknesses. We are no longer the dominant species of our world, usurped by these higher-dimensional beings.
Except, this event was nowhere near as exciting or terrifying as it sounds. It was more like a corporate buyout, as their alien technology was too advanced for us to compete. Every object, process, and idea became obsolete overnight, rendering the entire human race to be managed over with the cold smile of Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta. One of those humans was Adam Cambell (Asante Black), a Rhode Island teen with a lawyer mom (Tiffany Haddish) that has been unemployed since the takeover, and a younger sister (Brooklynn MacKinzie) that doesn’t see any light left in the world. Her feelings are pretty much shared by everybody, especially the teachers, most of whom have been laid off as they “have been underbid by the little boxes on your foreheads.”
Adam sees a bit of sunshine in the form of his new classmate Chloe (Kylie Rogers), whose family has been homeless nomads for the past few months. The two develop romantic chemistry quickly, using their happy feelings for each other to escape their downtrodden circumstances. Luckily for them, those feelings can be monetized, as the aliens don’t have the physical capabilities to feel love and will pay top dollar to witness it firsthand through something called a “Courtship Broadcast.”
As many Gen Xers would know, putting something online lessens the spontaneity of a feeling. You can’t fully be genuine when you’re trying to be genuine. Adam and Chloe run into this problem after the honeymoon phase dissipates rather quickly.
That aspect of social media and modern love is only one of the handful of scattershot ideas within writer/director Cory Finley’s screenplay, adapted from the book of the same name by M.T. Anderson. There are also themes about consumerism, broken families, class divides, immigration, emigration, teenage angst, social norms, life’s purpose, and the value of art. It’s a classic case of too many cooks in the kitchen, with none of the “lessons” being all that insightful. You might not have seen it with these types of characters in these situations, but you can see these plot developments and themes coming from a mile away.
Finley’s previous efforts of Thoroughbreds and Bad Education were able to thread the tonal needle with supreme confidence. There’s even a moment within Thoroughbreds where a character explains that the worst thing to be is indecisive. Finley seems to have forgotten that lesson in his third outing, as he loses that edge that made him such a phenom. Every image feels less than the sum of its parts, and you’re left with less energy than you came in with.
But all is not totally lost. The cast is quite good. Black and Rogers are nice together, and Josh Hamilton often shines as Chloe’s father who bends so far backwards to not be a failure that he ends up becoming more of one. Tiffany Haddish rises above her thinly written character. There’s also Michael Abels’ (a frequent Jordan Peele collaborator) synth score, instilling that extra drop of sci-fi kitschiness.
Landscape with Invisible Hand finds Finley stretching himself thinly across too many ideas and too many characters. It’s respectably ambitious, but never sticks the landing. Ultimately, it’s more of a misstep than a failure, as I expect him to find his footing again, hopefully, sooner rather than later.