Luv true to its name is a sort of love story to the ideal relationship between a child and his role model, and the dramatic turns this relationship can take when love isn’t enough.
The film takes place in Baltimore, but could have been based anywhere. The setting: inner city and mainly black communities whose basic integrities have been racked by decades of cyclical poverty, leading to a myriad of negative consequences like high drop-out rates, gang culture, violent crime, and drug addiction. Urban centers where children lose their innocence quickly, quietly swept up, losing a chance before they even start. The film’s principal goal is a social justice one: to continue a long-running discussion on the importance of role models in these communities. It’s a familiar story, but a personal one for Director Sheldon Candis, whose film is loosely based around his own muddled relationship with a troubled uncle.
Woody (Michael Rainey, Jr.) is a precocious, energetic little boy of about nine-years old. He lives with his grandmother and uncle in the Park Heights neighborhood of B-more. His mother and father are gone, the latter a victim of gun violence, the former living in an undisclosed location. He finds his role model in Uncle V (Common), who’s recently returned from an eight-year stint in jail for drug-related reasons. Uncle V exhibits all the confidence you seek to emulate as a young person, a perfect role model for Woody, otherwise already left without a rudder in his young life. Uncle V wants to be a role model too. He takes Woody on a day off from school, to show him what real life is like.
Unfortunately, the pair finds real life, but for Woody, it’s his awakening to the harsh realities of his community: drugs, homicide, prostitutes, and score settling. Luv is the complicated story of a complicated relationship. Uncle V does all he can to be a good role model for Woody, but unfortunately just can’t escape the cyclical, cruel world of inner city Baltimore. The tale is a sad one – in the end, Woody grows up a lot, though all the while his idealized image of his uncle, his superhero, is eroded and eventually destroyed.
Common and Michael Rainey Jr. have an excellent chemistry – the innocent yet expectant Rainey providing a well-measured contrast to his hardened yet affable Uncle V. Rainey, in only his second feature length movie, is an up-and-coming powerhouse, so stay on the lookout. Other famous black actors glitter the stage – Danny Glover, Dennis Haybsert, Charles S. Dutton, and a particularly menacing drug dealer in Michael Kenneth Williams (The Wire) – which should give you an idea of the film’s messages’ target audience.
As Candis said in a press interview,
“For me the filmmaker, my concern is foremost to tell a compelling fictional story that explore the human condition. In terms of storytelling, it’s exploring the ‘what-if’ of my childhood existence. What if a trusted adult was engaged in illegal activity? What if I was with him when these things happened? How does a child handle violence for the first time?
To that, I would add that the movies addresses: what happens when a child’s innocence is lost at such an early age? How does he emerge from that experience to be a productive member of society? What does effective male modeling look like in this context? The movie doesn’t answer the question: instead, it opens up a dialogue. Be prepared to have a long chat with whoever is seated near when the credits begin to roll – it’s that kind of film.