A small-town woman's mystic ability to fix broken machinery propels her and her family into nationwide cult status in tyro helmer Siofra Campbell's assured social satire. A wicked ear for dim-bulb dialogue, plus dynamite thesping by the likes of Martha Plimpton, Annabella Sciorra and Ewen Bremner. Film could build a core following in ancillary.

A correction was made to this review on May 24, 2006.

A small-town woman’s mystic ability to fix broken machinery propels her and her family into nationwide cult status in tyro helmer Siofra Campbell’s assured social satire. Celebrity doesn’t so much transform the quartet of losers at the center of “Marvelous” as enable their worst qualities. A wicked ear for dim-bulb dialogue, plus dynamite thesping by the likes of Martha Plimpton, Annabella Sciorra and Ewen Bremner, keep the viewer in a state of bemused delight. Emphasis on character over social commentary may lessen the pic’s high-concept indie appeal, but the film could build a core following in ancillary.

Gwen (Plimpton), sitting around all day in a depressed funk since her husband left her, has moved in with her sister Queenie (Amy Ryan) and Queenie’s husband Lars (Ewen Bremner). At the conclusion of a hilariously disastrous set-up date Gwen is inexplicably able to start up the guy’s battery-dead car. Soon Queenie’s Long Island home is full of clients clutching appliances and forking over stacks of money to middleman Lars to make granny’s old radio play once again.

Imperceptibly, Gwen’s healing vibes begin to focus on sick people rather than busted toasters. Coverage on a local TV-news station soon brings a stampede of curiosity-seekers, and Gwen’s newfound fame forces the foursome to take refuge in the Hamptons mansion of an elderly woman whom Gwen has cured. They hire professional manager Laura (Sciorra), who runs the estate like a New Age fiefdom, and keeps tabs on an increasingly erratic, alcoholic Gwen.

Gwen’s cures, mechanical or human, take place off-screen or in the interstices of the narrative. But the implication is that these miracles are, at least to some extent, real. By contrast, Queenie’s rise to fame as a channeler of the dead (the sisters now being packaged as a matched set) is depicted on-camera as the opportunistic exploitation of a chance remark.

But writer-director Campbell is less interested in social phenomena than personalities, and what makes Laura fascinating is less her rise to power than how she got there. Campbell, raised a Dubliner, has an outsider’s grasp of the nuances of language, and the rich comic possibilities of characters with a limited vocabulary.

The actors are in top form, milking their marvelously peculiar dialogue for all it’s worth. Sean Kirby’s Super16 lensing is crisp and Joe Klotz’s editing fluid.

Marvelous

Production

A Marvelous Pictures production. Produced by Siofra Campbell, Ian Moore. Executive producer, Lynn Goldner. Directed, written by Campbell.

Crew

Camera (color, Super16), Sean Kirby; editor, Joe Klotz; music, Dominic Rippel; music supervisor, Shauna Slevin; production designer, Tamar Gadish; costume designer Natalia Parsons; sound, John Bosch, Murray Trider. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (NY, NY, competing), May 6, 2006. Running time: 91 MIN.

With

Martha Plimpton, Amy Ryan, Ewen Bremner, Annabella Sciorra, Michael Shannon.

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