A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Luce is a play-based drama about complex issues of race, privilege, and expectations. It has very mature sexual content, including two brief, graphic sex scenes, one between a married couple and another between teens, plus full-frontal nudity and sex talk. Language is constant and strong, with many uses of "f--k," "s--t," the "N" word, "p---y," and much more. Violence is mostly described rather than shown, but there are allusions to war, as well as a story about a girl possibly being abused by several boys during a drunken party. Cops tase someone, a character's house is vandalized, and a desk (and then a building) are set on fire. In addition to descriptions of teen drinking, teens frequently smoke pot, and adults drink wine and whiskey regularly. The film is deliberately elusive, as well as rather talky and static, but it's also brutally smart and effective and will surely leave viewers talking. Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, and Octavia Spencer co-star.
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What's the story?
In LUCE, Amy (Naomi Watts) and Peter Edgar (Tim Roth) are proud of their adopted son, Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), whom they rescued from war-torn Eritrea when he was a child. An accomplished student, debater, and athlete at his school, Luce nonetheless arouses suspicion in teacher Ms. Wilson (Octavia Spencer). She searches his locker and discovers illegal, deadly fireworks. Luce reacts with intellectual indignation, accusing Ms. Wilson of invading his privacy. Amy and Peter stick by their son, and it becomes clear that Ms. Wilson has a previous track record of investigating students -- and is also dealing with a sister, Rosemary (Marsha Stephanie Blake), who is mentally ill. Luce, meanwhile, is involved with a girl, Stephanie Kim (Andrea Bang), who may have been abused at a party. As the situation comes to a head, the truth becomes increasingly elusive.
Is it any good?
Based on a play by J.C. Lee, this drama is (unsurprisingly) talky and static, but it also tackles complex issues of race, privilege, and expectations in a deliberately inconclusive, provocative way. Co-written by Lee and director Julius Onah, Luce has a clean, unexceptional look, full of evenly lit interiors, and it contains a great deal of awkward expositional dialogue that explains the hard road it took for Luce and his parents to arrive where they are. But it gets power from what it doesn't show. The contraband fireworks and drugs become like a sleight-of-hand trick when it's revealed that Luce and his teammates share lockers, and the contents of any locker could belong to any of them.
In another example, Stephanie's ordeal at the party isn't seen, only described, from her own hazy point of view; Luce himself could have been one of her tormentors, or her rescuer, and the true answer is never known. Ms. Wilson is perhaps the most interesting character -- piloted by another masterful Spencer performance -- able to see a little more clearly than some, but not as clearly as others. Ultimately, the movie asks questions about how we view others, what we expect from them, and how we react when those expectations aren't met. Despite its flaws, Luce is a strong, effective, and useful movie.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Luce depicts sex and sexuality. How graphic is it? Why do you think the filmmakers made those choices? What values are imparted?
Was Ms. Wilson right to breach Luce's privacy? How can you balance the importance of individual privacy against the safety of others?
What's the difference between how characters expect Luce to be and how he really is? How do characters react? What does this say about our world today?
What is the movie saying about privilege? Do you agree?
- In theaters: August 2, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: October 29, 2019
- Cast: Kelvin Harrison Jr, Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Octavia Spencer
- Director: Julius Onah
- Studio: Neon
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 109 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language throughout, sexual content, nudity and some drug use
- Last updated: October 28, 2019
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