In Execution, It Has Little Effect: Our Review of ‘Luba’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - January 09, 2020
In Execution, It Has Little Effect: Our Review of ‘Luba’

In her landmark essay “Body Genres,” Linda Williams describes the melodrama as a having a temporality that is inherently too late, and routinely focuses on the long-suffering mother as she struggles. Stella Dallas is the story of a woman sacrificing everything for her daughter’s attempt at happiness. But the emotions in a good melodrama must remain true, lest they simply perform melodrama without an affect.

I wonder if it is unfair that I invoke Linda Williams to open a review of Caley Wilson’s Luba, a small Canadian production that likely has to face a number of uphill battles. Here at In the Seats though, we try not to grade on a curve. In that alternate reality I may be more willing to forgive; in this reality I must confess that I didn’t enjoy Luba all that much.

The titular Luba (Nicole Maroon) is a struggling single-mother trying to keep a roof over the head of her and her son Matty (Porter Schafer), a fact exacerbated by the erratic actions her ex-husband Donnie (Vladimir Jon Cubrt). Putting it lightly, Donnie is not a good parent. He abandons Matty, a nebulously young child, alone at the movies for hours. But Matty loves Donnie, and Luba needs him to take care of their child while she tries to pick up some extra work. It’s a need that suddenly gets thrown askew when Donnie relapses into habitual drug use, and disappears for several weeks.

I can’t quite put my finger on what, specifically, feels off with Luba. Something, however, does, and the film is tremendously unconvincing as a result. Maybe it is Cubrt’s writing that feels off. Maybe it’s the acting, which feels more like people playing characters than actual humans on screen. Maybe it’s the silly contrivances and side-tangents that make this feel like a peculiar watch. Most likely, it’s some ungodly combination of all three.

The biggest side-tangent I couldn’t wrap my head around, involved multiple instances where Luba is shown skating and longing to play hockey. Ultimately, the best response I can give is that it offers some eventual plot-based utility while simultaneously symbolizing some form of lost youth. On paper, it kind of makes sense. In execution, however, it has little effect. This is actually the best way to describe Luba: in execution, it has little effect. The film opens with a Christmas dinner scene, but actors mostly seem to simply be going through the motions. It is almost as if I can see the screen directions popping off the screen: “he picks up the pierogi like he’s holding the holy grail.”

I do thoroughly enjoy melodramas; I’m also aware that there are few experiences more alienating than a lifeless one. This is a genre that necessitates an emotional response. I should be balling my eyes out by the time Luba reaches its conclusion. Instead, I cannot help but simply shrug. The biggest jolts of energy I got were from recognizing the Toronto locales and streetscapes that I’ve seen from my short time in this city. Otherwise, I can barely recall specific scenes.

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Thomas Wishloff is currently an MA student at York University. He is new to the Toronto Film Scene, but has periodically written and podcasted for several now defunct ventures, and has probably commented on a forum with you at some point. The ex-Edmontonian has been known to enjoy a good board game, and claims to know the secret to the best popcorn in the world.
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