When you hear the new indie film “The Story of Luke” is a comedy about autism, naturally you’ll want to steer clear of any cinema playing that film. You not only would be wrong, you’d be missing the first comedy gem of 2013.
In the nomadic ways of current indie cinema, “The Story of Luke” has been wandering the middle tier of film festivals around the county for over half a year, gathering up Audience Awards at nearly every festival where it played, and finally landed a distribution deal that puts it on VOD and in theaters April 5.
Find it somehow and watch it.
The film’s young writer-director, Alonso Mayo, has a mother who is a mental heath care professional in Lima, Peru, so he very carefully, courageously and respectfully tiptoes along that fine line between comedy and condescension.
He understands the challenges of autism but also understands the issue lends itself as much to humor as it does to heavy-duty drama.
As his co-conspirator he recruited one of the finest young actors in the independent film world, Lou Taylor Pucci, who among other accomplishments won a jury prize for acting at the Sundance Film festival and Berlin’s Silver Bear Award for his performance in “Thumbsucker” in 2005.
Together they craft in Luke an amazing character not only in the physical areas of being a tightly wound youth with a small voice and precise gait but in matters of dignity and strength of characters. In a sense, Pucci plays two characters.
Luke has been raised by a grandmother — his mother having abandoned him as a child — whose funeral he attends at the beginning of the movie. Everything he has learned about the strange world that surrounds him — its mystifying behavior and fluctuating morality — he learned from her.
Her death leaves him free floating in a world he studies hard and perhaps —and herein lies much of the comedy — figures out better than most. His grandfather (Kenneth Welsh) is ill and suitable only for a brief stop at a senior citizen home in his transition to a greater reward.
Which leaves Luke in the “care,” a word used advisedly, of his Uncle Paul (Cary Elwes) and Aunt Cindy (Kristin Bauer van Straten) and their teenage kids. In common parlance, this couple has issues, a better word would be dysfunctions, that make them ill suited to this task of hosting Luke in their household.
Granddad has left him with one piece of sage advice though — to be a man, which he defines thusly: First get a job, then find a nice girl who won’t nag, likes to travel and to screw. The latter activity Luke is still unacquainted with but he tries to make up for this with anxious alacrity.
So the film’s journey is one in which Luke’s road to discovery greatly transforms those around him at his new home and work place.
It is in the latter situation that Alonso has created an extremely funny counterpoint to Luke. This would be Seth Green’s Zack, who holds a job as an employee trainer only because his dad owns the place.
Zach is in a different place on the autism scale, I would say Asperger’s, but nonetheless a fine counterpoint to Luke. He is louder (much louder) and more aggressive than the shy Luke, but does introduce Luke to his lifelong study of what he calls “neurologically typicals,” in other words, normal people.
He has even created a flashy computer program that permits interaction with NTs through software that allows him to alter the “bitch” factor in, say, a created model of that employment-agency female in whom Luke has found a potential nice girl.
These two form a kind of comedy team although the film works so far outside any formulas or genre norms that you think of this only after it’s over. They quarrel with one another as much as Laurel and Hardy did, but with a kind of bravery that acknowledges the upstream battle they must perform each and every day.
In his home life, Luke with his ruthless honesty, performs the seemingly impossible task of settling down the entire household of a maritally distressed couple. Here the sagacity of Mayo’s screenplay takes hold.
Aunt Cindy, a willowy still attractive blonde, comes off at first as, in her own daughter’s words, “a psycho bitch.” Indeed after a shot of her favorite beverage, she admits to Luke, “I think I’m a bitch too.”
And yet … and yet … following her initial antipathy to having Luke in her household, she begins a transformation in a viewer’s eyes. She not only warms up to Luke, her vulnerabilities and fears become understood by an audience. You see a side to her invisible in the early scenes.
Alonso manages this with just about all his characters: First impressions are nearly always wrong. Or rather, not wrong so much as only one part of the story of these characters.
For “The Story of Luke” is the story of the hidden resources and qualities within us all. Not in a corny, after-school-special way, but in a subtle comedy that touches you in ways no other film out there at the moment can manage.
Opens: April 5, 2013 (Gravitas Ventures)
Production companies: Luke Entertainment presents a DViant Films and Fluid Films production
Cast: Lou Taylor Pucci, Cary Elwes, Seth Green, Kristin Bauer van Straten, Al Sapienza, Kenneth Welsh
Director/screenwriter: Alonso Mayo
Producers: Fred Roos, Nina Leidersdorff, Julien Favre
Executive producers: Luca Matrundola, Steve LeBlanc,Chris Jung, Ellen LeBlanc
Director of photography: David Klein
Production designer: Craig Lathrop
Music: Mateo Messina
Costume designer: Melissa Stewart
Editor: Vikash Patel
No rating, 95 minutes