The clash of two extremes and the compromise found between is at the heart of Luke & Jo, from former Baton Rouge filmmaker Joshua Overbay. In his previous film As It Is In Heaven, one extreme was divulged all the way to the end, that being of blind religious faith in any seemingly charismatic source. Luke & Jo maintains itself on Earth, though it certainly feels like it’s floating in the ether from time to time. It’s a movie where lofty ideals and expectations clash with harsh realities. It’s about the balance we strive to find when with or without support systems. It’s about kind connections, even if by happenstance, that can lead to something better, especially if one can’t realize that in the moment. Its magic lies with the central performances and the push & pull felt throughout, like holding magnets at a tense range without touching.
It’s about faith within the self above all else, and that’s a difficult notion to express. Luke & Jo does it effortlessly.
We follow Luke, a struggling screenwriter with a wife who’s the main provider for their family. She reads his latest work and gives a hardy if entirely awkward “Good Job!” before holding herself close as if disturbed. His script is a finalist in a film festival competition, and he’s happy about the prospects. His wife sees a pattern of disappointment and failure and urges him to take a teaching job. We follow Jo, a struggling musician who wants nothing more than to connect at all with her always on the road father. Her punk-ish arrested development type being involves eating gummy worms a lot and drinking constantly (soda or booze, give or take). When she comes home to meet her mother, she chokes on ice in excitement, laughing while moving on with the conversation. Luke comes off as an Arin Crumley (director of Four Eyed Monsters) kind of guy, overly idealistic, creative, and a bit naive perhaps. Jo is more the manic pixie girl variety, at least by way of her looks. Personality wise, she’s anxious, depressed, and a bit of a mess.
These two souls meet by chance straight out of a Hollywood romance and form an instant bond. She reminds him of his wife, only… nicer. By serendipitous coincidence, she even says exact phrases that his wife had spoken earlier, but more sincerely. I’m uncertain as to who he reminds her of – perhaps of a friend she never really had? Maybe of herself? They take walks and find moments where they can breathe and be held by themselves. Luke & Jo provides these moments with a meditative attitude that’s comforting and calming at once. Very contemplative too, ripe for character revelations and background.
With Overbay, I notice how he incorporates issues of faith into his stories often. In Heaven, it was related to false prophets and being easily led. In Luke & Jo, it’s related to what was once lost but is now found from within. There’s doubt, there’s danger, there are thoughts of death, and there’s depression. A meeting Luke has about his script goes south quickly when he lays out an ending that’s ambitious if also not marketable. Here, he discovers a truth about himself that he was holding back and holding him back for some time. In another meeting, Jo is visited by her father, a man so aloof and mellow you have to wonder about his stability. She sees what she’s always wanted right in front of her, but why isn’t she glad? Why dour? Luke & Jo digs in with surprising revelations and beautifully rendered bouts with faith. This faith could be with something/someone “higher” or it could be with ourselves. If it works, fine. But don’t forget your feet on the ground and the support next door.
It’s a sad state of affairs in Luke & Jo, but Overbay’s command weaves together proficient if also brilliant photography and an edited pace that keeps you engaged throughout. That pitch meeting had by Luke in particular, a one take back and forth, is splendidly riddled with nerves. When the two main characters are first introduced, they are bathed in green light on an empty street. You can see the cold in the air, and even feel it coming through the screen. When atmosphere and emotion are evenly conveyed, you have a winner on your hands. A winner of taught human drama and heavy themes from real life.
To achieve the personal without pretention, to pull from the self something relatable, to grasp at the intangible is astounding. Is powerful. Is filmmaking.
RATING: 5 / 5
Luke & Jo is now available on Blu Ray, DVD, and VOD streaming platforms.
Bill Arceneaux has been an independent writer and film critic in the New Orleans area since 2011, working with outlets like Film Threat, DIG Baton Rouge, Crosstown Conversations, and Occupy. He is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association and is Rotten Tomatoes approved. Follow him on Twitter: @billreviews