Review: ‘Sam & Joe’

Alcoholic ex-con Joe (Michael T. Ringer) drinks away his worries in some misbegotten bar, remembering his tumultuous marriage to Sam (Petra Wright) in "Sam & Joe." Semi-improvised first feature, written and directed by NYU grad Jason Ruscio, tries a bit too hard, and is nearly undone by a claustrophobic hand-held shooting style. Still, it's a raw and uncompromising piece about abusive, liquor-drenched relationships, put across by strong, honest performances. Fest interest for this bleak item should be significant.

Alcoholic ex-con Joe (Michael T. Ringer) drinks away his worries in some misbegotten bar, remembering his tumultuous marriage to Sam (Petra Wright) in “Sam & Joe.” Semi-improvised first feature, written and directed by NYU grad Jason Ruscio, tries a bit too hard to show its Cassavetes roots, and is nearly undone by a claustrophobic hand-held shooting style that destroys any sense of the literal and emotional spaces inhabited by its characters. Still, it’s a raw and uncompromising piece about abusive, liquor-drenched relationships, put across by strong, honest performances. Fest interest for this bleak item should be significant.

“Sam & Joe” relates in fragments a story about the irrationality of love and the way it can send the same wounded people back into each other’s arms time and again, despite their better judgment. Pic frees itself from conventional time structure to relate a tale that might be too harrowing to digest all at once. Wright is achingly good as the porcelain-fragile woman who can’t stop reconstructing her life out of the same broken pieces.

Sam & Joe

Production

A Z Films and Spun Out Prods. presentation. Produced by Jeffrey Zarnow, Evan Astrowsky, Amy Greenspun. Co-producer, Gina Philips. Directed, written by Jason Ruscio.

Crew

Camera (color, video), Hisham Abed; editor, Alexandra Bodner; co-editor, Dannah Nyblat; music, Josh Hager; music supervisor, Julyce Monbleaux; art director, Mark Zarnow. Reviewed on videocassette, L.A., April 18, 2003. (In Method Fest Film Festival.) Running time: 92 MIN.

With

Petra Wright, Michael T. Ringer, Jeffrey Donovan, Gina Philips, Eugene Blakely, Rod McLachlan, Dawn Cody, Shem Bitterman.
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