Luba (2018) [Cinequest Film and VR Festival 2018]

As a mother attempts to keep her life together, her ex, the father of her child, falls back into drugs and becomes problematic.

Written by Vladimir Jon Cubrt and directed by Caley Wilson, Luba takes the plight of a poor single mom, trying to do her best to raise her son and not keep him from his drug addicted father when things go badly. She is forced to make hard decisions. The characters created here and their plights are written in a realistic manner with their struggles and challenges. The film feels like it’s just a slice of life, where the viewer enters the characters lives. Things are already challenging for them, and we’re left with the story with not wrapped up in a bow, allowing the viewer a chance to make up their own minds about things.

The titular lead of Luba is played by actress Nicole Maroon who gives her depth in her emotions and how she deals with the blows she is dealt. She gives her character humanity and relatability, pulling the viewer to her and into the story where they will be invested by this and will want to watch as she works towards getting her life in order. Playing against her as her drug addicted ex is the film’s writer Vladimir Jon Cubrt who gives his character a complex, conflicted persona that quickly evolves into a violent, remorseless one. His work here shows a grasp of the material, the part, and the challenges facing addicts. His performance hits hard at times and nicely contracts with that of Maroon. Playing their son Matty is young actor Porter Schaefer who does a wonderful job at coming off bratty at times and sweet at others. His performance adds and fits in with the talented ensemble cast.

The cast is shown here through the lens and visual style of cinematographer Justin Beattie. His style here adapts to the scenes and situations as the film evolves while keeping everything fairly simple and easy to see. His work as cinematographer is subtle and easy to see. His work as cinematographer is so subtle it feels organic to the story. He gives it, and the characters room to be shown, to grow, and to evolve. It’s the cinematography that gets out of the way and doesn’t impose a ton of visual flourishes, giving the story the forefront and simply supporting it.

Also staying out of the story’s way is the score by James Newberry. His music is there to lightly underscore and not overtake the scenes, letting them have the spotlight. It’s a subtle score that works, it’s supportive and never invasive.

Luba is a slice of life film that showcases the challenges and strengths of a single mom forced to make tough choices and who, like most people, doesn’t always make the right decisions. Her plight is shown in a direct, yet non-exploitative way through careful writing and talented performances. The subject matter is approached directly yet respectfully in a way that doesn’t feel exploitative while not skimping on the reality of struggling single moms and those affected by having a drug-addicted person in their circle or family. The film resonates in a natural way as the characters connect with the viewer on multiple levels.