Mixed Messages of Cruelty and Compassion.

Luke (Lou Taylor Pucci) is a 25-year-old, severely autistic young man who has managed through life by living with his grandparents after being abandoned by his mother.  He has a high school diploma and culinary certificate. However, his grandmother has died and his grandfather is becoming more senile and the two must move in with Luke’s aunt and uncle, who have plans of their own.

Very soon after moving in with Aunt Cindy (Kristin Bauer) and Uncle Paul (Cary Elwes), Luke finds his grandfather standing in a convenience store restroom after urinating in his pants.  Luke’s grandfather pleads with him just to leave him there and forget about him. Luke is far too good-natured to do any such thing.  He cleans up his grandfather only to learn Cindy is dumping him off in a home for the elderly. Luke is now alone with the very dysfunctional Cindy and Paul, and their two children, neither of whom seem to care much for Luke.

Luke decides that it is time for him to give up watching cooking shows all day long and become a man. He wants a job and a girl! His first experience job hunting is with SMILES, an organization specializing in placement of “special” individuals. Unfortunately for Luke, by special, they want people who can do Rain Man-like things with numbers. Luke’s only skill, is cooking, to the disappointment of the placement firm, but nevertheless, he finds a job with an IT firm. His supervisor, Zack (never Zachary), is played with heartless cruelty by Seth Green.

Luke is bluntly honest, unintentionally exposing the faults of everyone he comes in contact with.  Initially, he is very off-putting, but later, the characters grow by bonding with Luke. His innocence serves as a mirror into the souls of their own lives.

For every likeable moment, The Story of Luke has severe faults. Basically everyone Luke comes in contact with has angry misconceptions of autism and “special needs” individuals. They constantly call him names like retard, idiot and moron. Zack goes as far to say that Luke’s only purpose is “to make people feel sorry for you … a living, breathing, stinking, example of everything they don’t want for themselves.” In a world where 1 and 5 children are born autistic, I would like to think that society has a greater awareness than this movie suggests.

As other characters like Cindy and Paul grow because of their experiences with Luke, they never grow beyond their own ignorance of the diagnosis. They grow and bond with Luke because they realize he is smarter than he first appears, but they never actually seem to find compassion for anyone who is different.  Luke is most accepted when he attempts to act like everyone else and not be himself.  In fact while Cindy, Paul, Zack and others grow to care for Luke, the viewer is under the impression that their cruelty will likely continue with others. They have grown fond of Luke, but no one has truly grown.

Zack is not all he seems and ends up revealing a secret to Luke, finally serving as his primary mentor to functioning in the real world. However, this relationship feels forced and false.

The only person who seems to have any actual understanding of Luke is the same person who has hurt him the most and does so again in the worst possible way.

Lou Taylor Pucci does a decent enough job portraying Luke. He is likeable and at times very sympathetic, but I couldn’t help feel that this was less of an autistic interpretation as much as an impersonation of Crispin Glover in … well, anything.

It’s difficult to say exactly what the goals of writer/director Alonso Mayo are in this movie. Apparently, the movie is based on Mayo’s experiences while shooting a documentary in Peru, which sounds altruistic enough, but is that his purpose here, to be altruistic? Or, maybe he’s trying to comment on the treatment he saw in Peru, which doesn’t carry over to the setting of the movie. Or, maybe he wants to make a commentary about the role of autistic individuals in society, or vice versa.

Even as it attempts a warm and fuzz conclusion, it ends with unintended cruelty at its heart … and that is the greatest fault with The Story of Luke.

Ultimately, it feels like the message of the movie is that “normal” people feel best about themselves when proving they are superior to people like Luke. I doubt this was the intent, but it is the result.

Grade: B-

Review by Gordon Shelly, special to Influx Magazine