Julius Onah’s ‘Luce’ was adapted from a play by J.C. Lee, who also co-wrote the screenplay. The material is a powerful piece – one that makes you examine each of these characters closely – people are complex, you see, and people can be both be devil and angel. The film centers around Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr) who is a star student (Debate team, football hero, honors) who isn’t quite who he appears to be. Or does he? Complications abound whenhe submits an assignment to his teacher (Octavia Spencer) praising Frantz Fanon, who advocates using violence as necessary retribution. She has his locker searched and finds illegal fireworks there.
The setting is set up, and I have to admit it was a little on the manipulative side. And the conflicts are settled a little too simplistic – we see complexities in some characters, but honestly, not all. However, we get four fantastic performances here, and each one gives their character so much depth that everything just works. Harrison is a star in the making, and Spencer is magnificent as always (this could give her more nominations by the end of the year) but I was also quite pleased with both Naomi Watts and Tim Roth who play Luce’s adopted parents. In the end, their performances gave me more satisfaction than the piece that laid the groundwork.
There are very few films about the trans experience and Gaby Dellal’s film ‘About Ray’ tried to bridge that gap. It tells the story of Ramona/Ray, a New York City teen who wants to transition from female to male. the issue is handled sensitively, and his mother, Maggie, played by Naomi Watts, is for the most part supportive, although naturally she has reservations about the whole transition process. The topic is commendable, as it sheds light on what trans peopel have to go through. but, this film tries to be much more than that, as if that wasn’t enough. It also deals with how maggie has to deal with that, in addition to an unnecessary soapy sub plot regarding Ray’s real father. Add to the mix Ray’s grandmother (Susan Sarandon) who is very much against the transition (‘Why can’t she be just a regular lesbian?”) As a result, Ray’s character suffers from the result, as it feels underdeveloped. His whining about the transition sometimes feel like a petulant kid not being able to get a new iPhone. Elle Fanning, as Ray, tries hard to bring sensitivity to her portrayal, and she mostly succeeds despite the thin characterization. I liked Watts’ performance here. I always think she is one of those actresses who always disappear in her characters. Sarandon plays her character her not unlike every other character she has played in the past – her cutesy meddling mother routine is frankly getting old. Still, I think this film is worth watching. Although everything at the end is tied up with an unrealistic pretty bow, i was touched by the film in general, and in today’s Trump America, the unenlightened can use a glimpse of this light.