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Awesome: 42.86%
Worth A Look57.14%
Average: 0%
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2 reviews, 2 user ratings

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Sam & Joe
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by Chris Parry

"When a failed onscreen romance genuinely depresses you, it's a good movie."
5 stars

I've just watched a film that looks totally cheap, stars complete unknowns, deals with an extremely sad topic, doesn't have a single car chase, and ends on a dour, depressing, wrist-slashing, test-screening-audience-unfriendly note. And what a great cinematic experience it was. Sam & Joe kicked my ass all around the room, which is coincidental, because that's the theme of the film. Sam (Petra Wright) is married to Joe (Michael T. Ringer), who is a bonehead drunk and likes to take out his aggression on anyone within swinging distance. This, of course, means he often takes it out on Sam, despite the fact that she's awesome, attractive, and the mother of Joe's child. But we don't open the film there - we open it a few years down the line, as Joe prepares to hump a local bar-slut. After a little of the old in'n'out, Joe admits that he recently killed someone - his wife. Suffice to say, the bar-slut isn't likely to stick around for tea.

And then we're back in time, to a happier moment in history, when Sam has just broken up with her abusive husband and seems to be exploring a relationship with her boss (Jeffrey Donovan). He's a decent guy, if a little 'game show host' for my liking, but I'm not the one doing the choosing here, so cue that big ol' romance. And that's where Sam & Joe is at its absolute best - letting great actors with no 'celebrity' baggage portray real people with more baggage than J-Lo.

Petra Wright is unforgettable as Sam. She's the kind of actress that Hollywood just doesn't cast, being as she's over 21 and doesn't have plastic chestware installed. Generally any role that doesn't require excessive sexuality goes to one of the Joans - Allen or Cusack - but leave it to the indies to show us what we're so obviously missing in Hollywood today; talented women in realistic female roles.

Micheal T. Ringer doesn't chew the scenery as the bad guy of the piece, but he doesn't need to. This intelligently written, deftly constructed character study does all the hard work for him, and by the end of the film you realize that all he had to do was get us to the end without shaming himself for the desired effect to slam home. Ringer's character is no Hannibal Lector, he's just a regular guy who has a couple of issues upstairs and can not conceive of what he has done.

On the other side of the coin, Wright and Donovan throw together one hell of a sweet, realistic, 'made in a higher place' romance, and writer/director Jason Ruscio sets about breaking it apart in ways that are guaranteed to disturb you to the core, both because this kind of crash is not supposed to happen in the movies, and because this kind of crash happens so often in real life.

When you can make it to the end of a movie feeling sympathy for the killer, the victim, the victim's boyfriend and the person sitting next to you watching it all, you're watching a piece of film that truly takes the experience of screen-based storytelling to the xenith of its potential. In the end, while the lack of budget dosn't help Sam & Joe get its message across, you'd have to wonder if the message would have gone anywhere had we been watching Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman instead of Petra Wright and Michael T. Ringer.

Sam & Joe is quite simply a must-see. You will not experience such a wide array of conflicting emotions watching any other film this year, and if the last scene doesn't leave you clutching at your armrest with white knuckles and pangs of depression, have someone check your pulse.

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originally posted: 08/25/03 13:17:46
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Starz Denver Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Starz Denver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 CineVegas Film Festival. For more in the 2003 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 San Francisco Film Festival. For more in the 2003 San Francisco Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Method Fest Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Method Fest Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/30/04 mush62 what about the music? 4 stars
9/22/03 y2mckay Well, it was pretty good until the last 20 minutes, when the DVD died on me. 4 stars
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Directed by
  Jason Ruscio

Written by
  Jason Ruscio

  Petra Wright
  Michael T. Ringer
  Jeffrey Donovan
  Gina Philips
  Dawn Cody
  Rod McLachlan

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