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.