Review by Cole Groth
The world needs more movies like Sam & Kate. In his directorial debut, Darren Le Gallo has crafted a heartwarming love story that’s as emotionally powerful as it is natural. Many established directors would struggle to face the daunting challenge of developing four emotionally complex and unique characters to their fullest, but Gallo manages it exceedingly well. This dramedy explores the complexities of modern romance and relationships well enough that even through some of its more strained moments, it’s still a refreshingly original romance film.
Sam & Kate tells the story of Sam (Jake Hoffman), an artist who has returned home to care for his brash and larger-than-life father, Bill (Dustin Hoffman). Sam’s relationship with his father isn’t that great, indicated by the fact that Bill doesn’t let Sam refer to him as “dad” because adult children shouldn’t refer to their child by anything but their full name (an admittedly confusing dynamic for the viewer until it’s explained later on). Since a real-life father-son duo plays Sam and Bill, their relationship feels exceptionally natural. The subtle moments of love that they share, even through their strained relationship, make this film feel so special.
When Sam falls for a local woman in his town, Kate (Schuyler Fisk), he has to balance his relationship with his dad and the woman he grows to love, all while Bill sparks a relationship with Kate’s mother (Sissy Spacek). Once again, this is a real-life mother-daughter duo, but we don’t see as much interaction between Kate and Tina, so it’s less prominent. This presents us with an interconnected family web that offers two very different relationships as the lives of the people surrounding them slowly unravel. It’s a great commentary on modern romance films, with Sam and Kate representing contemporary romance and Bill and Tina representing older romance. Both relationships are uniquely entertaining, and it’s nice to see that Gallo’s script handles Bill and Tina’s relationship just as well as Sam and Kate’s.
While the romance is handled very well, another aspect that Gallo excels in is exploring the complexities of everybody’s life story. Each character has his or her emotional baggage that unfolds in a slow yet satisfying burn. Sam is struggling to find himself in a world where his father doesn’t support him; Bill has to come to terms with his age and the death of his wife; Sam has a dark secret, and her tragedy has driven Tina to become a hoarder. This is a movie about people. People are complicated. When this film explores the four rich personalities, it succeeds. Some moments feel overly melodramatic, and many plot elements feel cliché; it’s hard to hold that against the movie because it gets so much else right.
On a technical level, each element is fine enough. No aspect is noticeably excellent, but it’s all proficient sufficient to feel professional. When everybody behind the scenes does their job, it allows the audience to focus on the beauty of the performances and actors on screen. Speaking of the performances, everybody brings their A-game. It’s no surprise that Dustin Hoffman and Sissy Spacek are excellent, but Jake Hoffman and Schuyler Fisk still have a lot to prove in this industry, which is an outstanding mark for them. These characters wouldn’t feel half as lovable without the excellent direction that each actor took them in.
All in all, Sam & Kate is a simple yet incredibly effective character study. With tremendous performances from two parent-child relationships, each character explored in Gallo’s directorial debut is three-dimensional and fun to watch. There are great moments to laugh at and a few tear-jerking moments, but what this film does best is its exploration of finding a way through life. If you look past the basic premise and occasionally slow pacing, this is a celebration of what it means to be human, how to move past tragedy, and how to forge your life path.
Sam & Kate releases in select theaters starting November 11th.