Thursday, July 11, 2019

IFFBoston 2019.01: Luce

A bit weird to talk about opening night of IFFBoston after I've already tackled the end, but it's the movies. Think of it as one of those times when the movie opens with a flash-forward to the climax, and try to forget all the times I've said that this device is basically awful.

Anyway, let's get to the reason we all get excited about opening night of IFFBoston and want to relive it months later: Seeing what Jon wore while playing the theremin as everybody took their seats!

Bold. Not quite as perfect as the spaceman outfit from two years ago, but I'm not sure that will ever be topped.

The guest for the night was Luce director Julius Onah (right), with film critic Jason Gorber handling the interrogation duties. That Jason clearly liked the film much more than this one, but to be fair to it, Luce hits a couple of things that drive me more nuts than they ought to in terms of how "bad" they are as storytelling devices, and I talked to a lot of people who really liked it but aren't bothered by the high-school debate reasoning and "I'm going to say something's important but make sure not to show it for a while". And I am kind of intrigued by seeing it as a play, as I get the feeling that a lot of those devices might work better on the stage.

Onah joked about directing a Cloverfield movie without knowing he had, but made what was pretty likely a good choice not to go into much detail on how that all happened. The Cloverfield Paradox was a huge mess, but no need to burn bridges there.

Odds are long that I'll get more of these done while at Fantasia, but I suppose stranger things have happened.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 24 April 2019 in Somerville Theatre #1 (IFFBoston Opening Night, DCP)

Luce is a clever film that often leans a bit too hard on its cleverness, especially in the first half. The filmmakers seemingly love to show a small facet of something and make it very clear that there's more to be seen and maybe they'll get to it later, or to lay out facts and perspectives in debate-team style, pointing out that it's working with semantics rather than being straightforward or even playing at being straightforward.

The comparison is natural because title character Luce Edgar (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is the star of his school's debate team and a generally impressive speaker all-around; his accomplishments make the whole community and especially the parents who adopted him as a refugee from Eritrea proud. But as he gives his latest speech, his History of Government teacher Harriet Wilson (Octavia Spencer) looks suspicious, and she's soon calling Amy and Peter Edgar (Naomi Watts & Tim Roth) in for a conference. Luce, it seems, recently wrote a paper in the voice of revolutionary Franco Fannon when most of the other students chose someone less incendiary, and when Harriet searched his locker, she found something which suggests he might not just be interested in that as rhetoric. Luce has an explanation, but once the idea is in a person's head, it can be hard to get it out.

The trouble is getting more than just an idea out of it, and filmmaker Julius Onah and co-writer J.C. Lee (who also wrote the original play) don't have as much in the way of story as the movie really needs. Especially early on, they will tend to tease that Luce or Harriet has something to say or show to people, but then not actually do so for flimsy reasons, and that's a tactic that needs to be executed with care - even on the first try, it will often make the audience feel like the filmmakers are just screwing with them, and even when that's fun, repeating it tends to make a viewer more resentful each time. Once that happens, the payoff at the other end has got to be a nearly-perfect case of something one doesn't see coming despite it making perfect sense in retrospect, although ultimately being kind of loopy the way this movie does is not necessarily a terrible alternative - it's at least not underwhelming.

Full review on EFilmCritic

No comments: