Adam, a gifted painter whose works serve as arresting visual chapter headings, has been living with his mom Beth (Tiffany Haddish) and sister Natalie (Brooklynn MacKinzie) in rapidly declining prosperity when he meets Chloe in art class; she and her father and brother (Josh Hamilton and Michael Gandolfini) are homeless, and Adam immediately invites them to live in his family’s basement. While Adam and Chloe’s romance blooms — Vuvv eyeballs and valuable dollars — class resentments simmer between the two families. Given the titular Invisible Hand — an economic idea originated by Adam Smith — it’s clear that this sci-fi flick will have more on its mind than pod-people paranoia or space-age gimcrackery. As the plot gets stranger, the themes that weave through “Landscape With Invisible Hand” become more pronounced, from the ways race, class and gender skew capitalist competition to the commodification of art.
Written for the screen and directed by Cory Finley, “Landscape With Invisible Hand” feels reasonably faithful to its source material, and it benefits from a lovely musical score by Michael Abels and an appropriately Lynchian visual design by Sue Chan. (William Downs did most of the paintings Adam creates throughout the film, which exude a rich, rough-hewed authenticity.) The Vuvv creatures, who communicate by slaps and rasps created by flipper-like extremities, possess their own kind of charm. But, with the exception of a few choice words from Haddish, “Landscape With Invisible Hand” lacks the kind of steady humor and energy that would otherwise keep the story afloat.
Shellshocked by not just the alien invasion but the loss of his father, Adam turns out to be an emotionally inert protagonist. The blisteringly pragmatic Chloe might be more interesting — Rogers is a wonderfully nuanced young actress — but winds up being relegated to the sidelines in a plot that somehow reaches peak absurdity without many genuine laughs. In many ways, “Landscape With Invisible Hand” succumbs to the same defeated sense of numbness that pervades Adam’s joyless, present-adjacent world. Finley might end the movie with a bracing defense of art as necessity and life force. But the film itself feels less exhilaratingly optimistic than resigned.
R. At area theaters. Contains strong language and brief violence. 105 minutes.
POST AUTHOR: Ann Hornaday