Life According to Sam” chronicles a real-life “Lorenzo’s Oil” scenario in which parental dedication to research actually changed the treatment and life-expectancy prospects for a seriously afflicted child. The titular Massachusetts boy was diagnosed early on with progeria, a rare accelerated-aging disorder whose victims die in their teens (or earlier) from causes that typically befall seniors. This latest docu by Sean and Andrea Nix Fine (“War/Dance”) is a straightforward, solidly crafted inspirational tale that should appeal to quality broadcasters. HBO plans its first U.S. airdate for October.

When their only child was not yet 2, Leslie Gordon and Scott Berns learned he had a condition that strikes only one in several million; fewer than 250 kids are likely to have it worldwide at any moment in time. Fortunately for Sam — and eventually for others — his parents were physicians who quickly set up a foundation and raised $1.25 million to identify the gene that causes progeria. That accomplished, they oversaw development of an experimental drug, then launched its first clinical trials, with children from 16 countries flown in to participate.

At the pic’s start, Sam is 13, the median age of death for progeria sufferers susceptible to strokes and heart attacks. He’s a bright middle-school student interested in music and sports, though his ability to participate in extracurricular activities is limited by his weakening body. The race against time is exacerbated by Gordon’s difficulties in getting her trial-results paper published in a reputable medical journal — due to the extremely small pool of progeria patients, her study doesn’t meet the usual research criteria. Nonetheless, their breakthrough finally gains wide media attention, heralding a turning point for a disorder hitherto without any hope, let alone cure.

Assembly is pro down the line, if not particularly inspired.

Life According to Sam


  • Production: An HBO Documentary Films presentation of a Fine Films production. (International sales: HBO, Los Angeles.) Produced by Sean Fine, Andrea Nix Fine, Miriam Weintraub. Executive producer, Sheila Nevins. Directed by Sean Fine, Andrea Nix Fine.
  • Crew: Camera (color, HD), Sean Fine; editor, Jeff Consiglio; music, Keegan DeWitt; sound, David Hurley. Reviewed on DVD, Santa Barbara, Jan. 31, 2013. (In Sundance Film Festival -- competing.) Running time: 94 MIN.
  • With: With: Sam Berns, Leslie Gordon, Scott Berns, Audrey Gordon.