Harriet Wilson (Octavia Spencer), Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and Amy Edgar (Naomi Watts) in LUCE CR: Jon Pack/NEON
Credit: Jon Pack/NEON

Luce (2019 movie)

Luce Edgar is the ideal teenager in every way: handsome and popular, class valedictorian, star of the track and debate teams; even his dimples gleam.

He’s also a former child soldier from Eritrea whose adoptive parents, Amy and Peter (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth), have spent ten loving, laborious years helping him leave his past traumas behind and adjust to a new life in America. So when a faculty member (Octavia Spencer) accuses him of writing a paper that theoretically endorses violence and then produces a bag of illegal fireworks after searching his locker, it’s not clear who’s telling the real story — or more honestly, who we want to believe.

Adapted from a lauded 2013 play by JC Lee, Luce spins an intriguing if sometimes too-broad tale of race, perception, and privilege. As the title character, Kelvin Harrison Jr. (It Comes at Night) walks a tricky line between possible sociopath and vulnerable young man desperate to please, but also to free himself from the crushing pressure of what everyone expects him to be.

Spencer’s Harriet, too, is on a tightrope: Is she just a teacher who cares too much? Or a disturbed woman with a personal vendetta? Even Peter and Amy, both furiously clinging to their own truths and past hurts, are hardly blameless. No one gets off easy here, and no one quite gets answers, either; maybe that’s the point. B

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