The Story of Luke is the story of a young man who wants to live his own life: he wants a job and a girl. Luke, who has autism, has been brought up by his grandma and when she dies, he and his grandpa are forced to go live with dyfunctional relatives who don't really want them. Grandpa has Alzhimers's and is soon forced into a nursing home. He tells Luke, "Get a job. Find a girl. Live your own life. Be a man!" And so begins Luke's quest.
The Story of Luke, director Alonso Mayo's first feature film, is not an autism movie or a disability movie. The film, which is having its world premiere at the San Diego Film Festival (SDFF) Sept. 29, is a coming of age movie about a young man's search to create a life for himself and how in doing so, he transforms everyone around him. Most parents of youths with autism will find this movie uplifting and encouraging—we all hope and wish our youths will be successful in finding employment and someone to love.
Luke is an unlikely but lovable hero. As Luke transitions into adulthood, the people around him begin to change, all having their pivotal moments due to his influence. We wonder, who is learning from whom? Seeing the world through Luke's eyes, it's not really clear who is really disabled and who is "normal."
I asked my son Jeremy, who is severely impacted by autism, what he thought of The Story of Luke. He typed, "Luke is justly the nicest person in the movie. He cares for the old man (Grandpa) and has feelings. He tries to be somewhat independent. Really, neurotypicals are very impatient."
It's clear Grandpa (Kenneth Welsh) has pushed Luke onto his path. Yet everyone else is transformed by their connection to this unlikely hero. Kristin Bauer van Straten (True Blood) is the aunt who is clearly not happy with having them dumped on her to-do-list as her husband (Cary Elwes) goes off to work. Their son (Tyler Stentiford) and daughter (Mackenzie Munro) have different reactions to their live-in cousin. When Seth Green first appears as Zach, Luke's supervisor at his first job, you wonder how any job counselor would put Luke in such a work placement. But he is the boss's son after all, and eventually Luke and Zach learn from each other how to be successful in a world that is not always so understanding of their neurological differences.
Lou Taylor Pucci's portrayal of Luke is spot on. His manners, gestures and tone of voice feel authentic. He spent time with autism families in Sault Ste. Marie, Canada (where the movie was shot) to get his characrter right.
Alonso Mayo, the director, explains where the idea of the movie came from. "Since I was a child, I was surrounded by people with special needs, their parents and the professionals that serve them because my mother runs an educational center for kids and adults with developmental delay in Peru (El Centro Ann Sullivan del Peru). I started my film career by making training videos about supported employment programs and have always been particularly fascinated with autism and especially those individuals who stand close to the line between the 'normal' world and their own.
What is it like to be on the outside? To experience life in a different way? What is it like to see other people living full lives and know that you will never have that yourself? And what happens when you decide that you will not accept your fate but make your own? This is the story of Luke."
It's clear that Luke has the same desires all of us have: a job, someone to love, and an enjoyable life. We want him to succeed as he attempts to experience what we all remember enduring, and that we hope our children will have the opportunity to experience: our first job, our first crush, our first attempt to ask someone out on a date.