It’s interesting how much the High School experience has been chronicled throughout history on film. I chalk that up to it being the quintessential and universal time in every person’s life where the transition between adolescence and adulthood is most paramount. Also, the social constructs built within the school walls make it one of the juiciest times of our lives where we are forced to be in one place for 6-8 hours of our day, 5 days a week, 10 months a year. We’re forced to interact with others who may or may not be experiencing a lot of the same changes in their own life.
The physical, social, mental and emotional changes that drive all our actions.
We’ve seen “New School Year” movies, “High School Sports” movies, Homecoming, Winter formal, Spring dance, Prom… … ...etc. We’ve seen them all. The beautiful thing about High School is each generation gets a turn to show audiences a new spin on things. The way cultures penetrate us. Politics, the evolution of social norms, the way technology has infiltrated out lives.
I’m very happy I went to school at a time where smartphones weren’t a thing. I don’t think I could’ve made it. Well, I’m resourceful. I’m sure I would’ve navigated alright after a bit. I think we all take a bit of time regardless of how long or short, to get our footing on things and then find ourselves in whatever grade and make High School what we want it to be.
I’ll never forget the summer between 10th and 11th grade. I Lost some weight, got a cool haircut, made a little bit of money and transformed into the young man I wanted people to see me as.
High School is very much about who you want to be and what you want people to see you as. It’s not absolute and can change like the wind but it’s all about perception. The central theme in “Luce” exploring perceptions in an environment entangled with identity politics, colorism, tokenism, mixed race adoption, mental health, confrontation and even retribution.
Fantastically, “Luce” tackles it all to perfection.
Married couple, Amy (Naomi Watts) and Peter (Tim Roth) are forced to reckon with their idealized image of their adopted son, Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr) after an alarming discovery by a devoted teacher, Ms. Harriet Wilson (Octavia Spencer) threatens his status as an All-Star Student. - IMdB
Julius Onah and JC Lee capture a critical time in a teen’s life where they’re on last leg of their race to the finish line. For a lot of us who and what you are starts to change even more. Some more than others and Luce is no different. He’s an interesting character study as he was adopted from a war-torn part of Africa and it took years of therapy between he and his family to resolve a lot of his trauma. Onah isn’t shy about balancing the external war of his past, with the current internal war of his mind. Luce is the Ideal Son. A soon to be Valedictorian, track star, debate team captain, handsome, athletic, with a smile that’ll snatch your heart. He’s also a charismatically, diabolical, duplicitous anti-sociopath.
I had an ignorant understanding of the definition of sociopath to be a crazy-to-a-fault non-murderous maniac. I don’t know where I got that from, but that’s what I thought. A sociopath is a personality disorder that manifest into extreme antisocial attitudes and behaviors with a lack of conscious. Things is, it sounds cool to say.
Luce is none of that. He’s a warm and welcomed friend to all, liked by everyone and has an always measured and calculated demeanor. That’s the deliciously scary part. He’s operating throughout the film like a chess master, moving the pieces of his family, friends, and school around in a way to help get what he wants and find what he’s looking for.
The direction is clear from the beginning as we witness a brilliantly orated speech delivered by Luce in a sort of Assembly.
I, when in High School used to relish those opportunities. I found Public speaking to be cathartic and pleasurable.
Luce is in search of something he hasn’t completely fleshed out and it takes clear vision to craft a story so well we classically end where we began back at an assembly with another speech and we see that journey come to an end with a realization that he boasts spectacularly, staring down his parents as it happens.
Kelvin Harrison Jr delivers my favorite performance of the year. I’ve gushed at how well written his character is, but it takes a special performance full of nuance and expert delivery to pull of the authenticity. I’ve heard some say, this would never happen in real life. I say, it would and has, and I’ve been the perpetrator of such actions. I would joke how I would use my superpowers for evil. That’s what Luce is doing here. Charm is a powerful weapon. Kelvin is a wizard wielding his like Merlin casting a spell. He plays so well with beats and his eyes sell every scene. He’s a ball of emotion tightly wrapped and an unraveled when needed and is my clear Lead Actor frontrunner for the Oscars.
He’s supported by a talented group of acting vets as well. Watts, Roth, and Spencer balance out a dynamically well written and performed cast. This maybe one of Octavia Spencer’s best performances with her turn as Ms. Wilson. She’s an equally flawed and complex character in a complex world and her scenes are fiery and uncomfortable. The power struggles at play between her and Luce throughout the film are teeming with delicious subtext and all the shade.
The way the score fades in and out and becomes central to Luce’s characterization works to add another layer of specter to his dimensionality.
This is not your average Teen drama. It’s something more, something spectacularly special; unafraid to speak on the uncomfortable conversations buried within political correctness and sensitivity that roam our school halls, or our homes. Every compositional element at work in this film is simply perfect to me. Perfect direction, script, cast, performances all culminate to deliver something wildly different and my #1 Movie of the year.
KOLBYTOLDME RATING- 10/10
Director: Julius Onah
Writer: J.C Lee, Julius Onah
Starring: Kelvin Harrison Jr, Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Tim Roth
Run Time: 109 mins