Had Greta Gerwig and David Lynch collaborated on “Independence Day,” the result might have been a lot like “Landscape With Invisible Hand,” a slyly subversive sci-fi satire that packs a sensory kick.
Adapted by writer-director Cory Finley from the 2017 M.T. Anderson novel of the same name, the film takes the well-traveled alien invasion genre and mischievously flips it, dispensing some timely critiques on everything from authoritarian rule and colonialism to economic inequality and social injustice.
Down on terra firma, at initial glance, the landscape surrounding the suburban East Coast home of the Campbell family doesn’t look all that different in the 2030s, save for the shadows cast by the constantly passing floating cities belonging to their overlords.
It turns out, first contact between Earth and the Vuvv was made some years earlier, and instead of “War of the Worlds” bombast, the takeover of the planet was accomplished with a whimper of a handshake between our world leaders, who, dazzled by the Vuvv’s flashy technology, let human jobs be rendered obsolete, the economy going into freefall.
Chronicling the events is 17-year-old Adam (Asante Blackk), an aspiring artist who lives with his mom, Beth (an effectively subdued Tiffany Haddish), once a lawyer pre-Vuvv takeover, and younger sister Natalie (Brooklynn MacKinzie) in their big, crumbling home.
At Adam’s urging, the household takes in his new classmate, Chloe (Kylie Rogers), her prideful dad (Josh Hamilton) and resentful big brother (Michael Gandolfini), who had been living in their car, unable to find employment under the new regime.
As the palpable sexual spark between Adam and Chloe grows, she suggests they monetize their budding relationship by opening it up to “courtship broadcasts,” and they proceed to rack up some nice cash deposits from Vuvv viewers fascinated by human mating rituals.
But when they continue to stage their dates even after the relationship cools, they find themselves in hot water with the Human Broadcast Standards Commission, who threaten to sue them for misrepresentation, until Beth agrees to play house with a temporary Vuvv husband.
While the talented ensemble keeps everything relatably grounded, they ultimately play second fiddle to those wonderfully gonzo Vuvv. Created by Erik-Jan De Boer, the Oscar-winning visual effects supervisor responsible for giving Bong Joon Ho’s “Okja” its sentimental, porcine pulse, the Vuvv creatures, aptly described as “gooey coffee tables” by one of the characters, make for shameless scene-stealers.
Outfitted with paddle-like appendages that they rub together to communicate, the Vuvv, when heard through their human-translation boxes, possess the dulcet tones of a patriarchal 1950s TV announcer — which, considering they learned about much of our culture watching old reruns, would be completely understandable.
But just beneath the percolating absurdity (playfully underscored by composer Michael Abels’ liberal use of the otherworldly theremin) there’s a caustic cautionary tale that takes aim at numerous issues facing contemporary society. (Adam’s English lit teacher announces, “Apparently my microscopic salary is too much of a burden on the school,” his syllabus shifting to Vuvv culture and history.)
Although Finley, who previously directed the Emmy-winning Hugh Jackman drama “Bad Education,” doesn’t quite manage to sustain the film’s irreverent energy, especially during its more melancholic second half, he handily succeeds in delivering a piece of entertainment that is at once wildly out of this world and all-too-relevantly down to earth.