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Luce

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Luce Movie Poster Image
Smart, mature drama about race, privilege, and expectations.
  • R
  • 2019
  • 109 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Complex, multi-themed; will give viewers plenty to think and talk about. Explores question of what privilege is, how it can be viewed differently by different groups/people. Poses deep questions: What do we expect from people with privilege? What happens if they don't live up to that expectation? How far does privacy extend, and when is it OK to violate privacy to find justice?

Positive Role Models & Representations

All of the characters here are deliberately layered and complicated, each with levels of good and evil -- but none emerge as especially admirable.

Violence

Frequent verbal descriptions of violence, including stories of war and accounts of an abusive party game in which a girl is "passed around" from boy to boy. Cops tase a naked, ranting woman. A character's house is vandalized with hateful words. Bag of illegal fireworks discussed. Desk set on fire, which later burns a building.

Sex

A woman goes into the shower with her husband; naked breasts shown. A brief, rough sex scene shows a couple pounding on a bed. Married couple kisses. Two teens embrace, and both remove their shirts (breast seen); they lie down in bed, and there's a fairly graphic beginning to a sex act. A woman is fully naked for several long seconds. Sex-related talk.

Language

Very strong, frequent language, with uses of "f--k," "s--t," "bulls--t," "motherf----r," "bitch," "p---y," the "N" word, "d--k," "damn," "oh my God," and "Jesus" (as exclamations).

Consumerism

Google, Facebook, Apple products shown/mentioned.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens regularly smoke pot. Verbal description of party with teen drinking. Adult characters frequently drink wine and whiskey.

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?

  • How are drinking and drug use portrayed? Are they glamorized? Are there consequences? Why does that matter?

  • 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?

Movie details

For kids who love dramas

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