Article By: Dan Clark
Autism awareness has steadily increased over the last decade. Though the public is far more educated on the topic than the past, a large misunderstanding still remains. The spectrum of autism is vast covering a variety of characteristics and behaviors, which may help explain why it has been handled so differently in films. Films like Rain Main present it with more of a comedic edge, while something like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close relies more on the dramatic aspects. Alonso Mayo’s The Story of Luke cuts the difference. The Story of Luke is small indie dramedy that puts a small twist on the coming of age tale. While the story is certainly familiar, its large amount of sincerity causes it to be touching tale of overcoming odds. This slice-of-life story brings you into a world very few could ever truly experience, though it is obviously not concerned with being a beacon of social change. It simply takes those we easily disregard and places them into the forefront.
Alonso Mayo, who both writes and directs the film, is making his full scale film debut with this feature. For a first timer he has managed to craft a solid cast of veteran actors and up-and-coming talent. Lou Taylor Pucci, who plays Luke, provides a performance that could propel his career to new heights. It does take some time to get used to, mostly due to this voice, but once you settle in he takes over. He completely embodies the character of Luke—down to the minutia of his body language and face gestures. Luke unmistakably has some form of autism, though the film leaves his exact diagnosis ambiguous. When he was a young child his mother left him with his grandparents, never to came back. His grandparents kept him sheltered, homeschooling him themselves rather than placing him in a public school. After his grandmother dies his uncle Paul (Cary Elwes) is left to figure out what to do with Luke and his ailing grandfather (Kenneth Welsh). Luke is determined to prove he can survive on his own just like everyone else. He sets off on a journey that will hopefully land him a job and a girl to ‘screw’—he just needs to find out what screw means first.
The story works as a deconstruction of the stereotypical tropes that are often associated with autism. Luke freely admits he has no special powers; he can’t instantly divide large numbers in his head, or memorize an endless amount of minute facts. The only unique skill of any kind he has is his ability to cook 23 dinner entrees and a few breakfast items. Narratives that center on a person with a disability tend to counterbalance the disability by giving the character a sort of outlandish skill. Luke is no Forrest Gump or Rain Main. He is just operates life in a different manner. This film shows the types of misconception that can form when fiction is treated as fact.
Luke’s own family is not sure what to do with him. Paul has a family of his own, and his wife (Kristin Bauer) is not to keen on being responsible for a grown man. They already have plenty of their own problems so Luke would only complicate matters. Of course he ends up being the savior of most of their issues, and is a big factor in bringing them closer together as a family. That was the one area that felt false. Things come together far too nicely. It felt like a sitcom moment with how easily everything gets tied up. The family subplot as a whole was the films weakest point. There was not much there beyond surface level emotion.
Eventually Luke does land a job, that he hopes will lead him to becoming a true man. One downside is his overzealous supervisor Zack (Seth Green). Zack, unlike Luke, reveals in the fact that he is different than everyone. Seth Green gives a solid supporting performance as this grouchy IT with a nasty attitude. Zack, who clearly has his own challenges, finds great enjoyment in tormenting Luke, but they eventually form an unlikely friendship. Again, it is something you see coming, but it works quite well. There is a high level of heart and humor to their give-and-take.
Dramedy can be a dirty word to describe a movie that is neither all that dramatic nor funny. Here the mantra fits because the drama never gets too heavy, and the comedy never gets too outlandish. Instead a moment, like Luke dealing with the death of his grandmother, is made lighter with an array of lighthearted chuckles. The comedy does lean heavily on Luke’s social awkwardness, especially when dealing with opposite sex. Watching him attempt to ask out a female secretary, or converse with his cousin’s overly sexual girlfriend felt like a cheap way to get laughs. Besides those moments the comedy was very respectful and effective. It is the type movie that makes you feel better as a person. Much of the comedy today focuses on being as lewd and crude as possible. The Story of Luke is your basic sweet story full of optimistic sentiment and clever dialogue. Some may dismiss it as another orthodox indie film, but—much like Luke—it can surprise you.