A married couple is forced to reckon with their idealized image of their son, adopted from war-torn Eritrea, after an alarming discovery by a devoted high school teacher threatens his status as an all-star student.
There’s quite a lot to unpack in Julius Onah’s “Luce,” an adaptation of the play by J.C. Lee. Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is a high school senior who was adopted at a young age from a war-torn African country. His parents, Peter and Amy Edgar (Tim Roth & Naomi Watts), have seemingly done all the right things in raising him, treating him with respect, talking to him openly about his past and encouraging him to set high goals and work hard towards achieving them. On the surface, Luce is the model student, an example for his peers to look up to and emulate.However, there may be something more lurking beneath the surface. The young man’s language arts teacher, Ms. Wilson (Octavia Spencer), raises a red flag when she contacts Luce’s parents about an essay he wrote about a revolutionary who supported the use of violence to achieve his ends. Are these Luce’s beliefs?
Lee’s narrative is a bit convoluted at times and could have perhaps benefitted from excising one subplot as the film is always on the verge of becoming a bit too preachy. Yet, its purpose is to prompt thought and discussion, to open the viewers’ eyes to their own misconceptions and others’ concerns. It’s a challenging, provocative work that, here’s hoping, will been seen enough to realize its potential.
The idyllic family quickly unravels as they begin to question their seemingly perfect role-model son who happens to be black and adopted from a war-torn country. This incredibly thought-provoking script with equally skillful performances places into the spotlight a myriad number of preconceived notions about our own morals, values, and prejudices. We, the viewer, are always questioning everyone’s motives, trying to put together the missing pieces of the puzzle and see things without the cloud of prejudice. From the parents’ relationship issues coming to a head thanks to the current stressors their son is unintentionally inflicting to Luce and his own secrets as well as Harriet’s covered family life, what we see on the surface isn’t always the truth.
Kelvin Harrison, Jr. has a nuanced and deft performance portraying this very complicated character. He is able to elicit a myriad number of emotions, conveying his character’s background and current social pressures and obligations to a point that we believe we truly know Luce. Octavia Spencer has an unlikely role, allowing her freedom to find a new voice in cinema. With all of the characters so well fleshed out and executed by the actors, we are able to identify to a great extent with each of them. This, in turn, creates a very emotional and powerful film that makes a brilliant story even more thought-provoking.