Review by Joseph Fayed
Reed Harkness always enjoyed making films with his younger brother Sam growing up. His films preserved collective memories of their lives together. Sam Now uses that footage plus new material from the last two decades to solve a family mystery and acknowledge the ripple effects it has had on everyone involved.
The documentary begins with an explanation that Jois Harkness — step mother of Reed — suddenly disappeared from her family's lives around the year 2000. There were mixed reactions all around, but her two youngest sons were left grieving the most. Reed and Sam decide to hit the road to find Jois and begin to try to resolve issues that stem from Jois's abandonment.
The documentary is very well shot and is almost like a love letter to Sam, while addressing some of the emotional hardships he has faced throughout his life. When Sam pours his heart out and shares his true feelings, he makes for a captivating protagonist. His mother walking out of his life clearly left a gap inside him that is well explained by Sam himself. Over the years, Sam has had conflicted feelings about his mother's role in his life. Much of the family is still uncomfortable talking about Jois too. The independence Sam was forced to form and his struggles with codependency have become a part of him. We get to see enough of Sam pre- and post- Jois’s disappearance to have everything come full circle for him.
There is a special kind of touch that is added to a documentary like this, when the director is the one filming his own family's reunion. There is one moment where the youngest brother Jared writes a letter to his mother and Reed, who advises him to do so because he can't make the trip to track her down. There is no outsider's perspective that interrupts the story unfolding in front of this family. Since Dear Zachary, I have not seen a documentary where the family's involvement in the film has done more than have them be talking heads.
The central mystery about Jois’s whereabouts is solved, but that is not what brings the story closure. This documentary focuses on healing from loss and the dangers of choosing your own path. One decision can fundamentally change the lives of many forever, and Sam Now explores that while recognizing that trauma isn't resolved swiftly with time passing by.
Sam Now is now playing in theaters.