Acting generations come together for awkward family drama Sam & Kate
Dustin Hoffman and Sissy Spacek are two of the most notable actors to ever appear in films, with each winning at least one Academy Award alongside multiple other Oscar nominations. Each has a child – Dustin’s son Jake Hoffman and Spacek’s daughter Schuyler Fisk – who has followed in their parent’s footsteps in the acting profession, although neither has achieved similar success despite respectable careers.
The new film Sam & Kate, which premiered at the Austin Film Festival in October, brings together the two generations in an ill-fated attempt at capitalizing on show biz legacies. Sam (Jake Hoffman) has come back home to live with and take care of his father, Bill (Dustin Hoffman), who is in somewhat ill-health. Sam, who calls his dad Bill instead of Dad, temporarily works at a chocolate factory with his friend Ron (Henry Thomas).
Sam also develops a crush on Kate (Schuyler Fisk), a woman his age who works at a bookstore. A chance encounter with Kate and her mom, Tina (Spacek), at a restaurant brings them all together, and the two would-be couples start a tentative flirtation. But each person has their own set of issues that threaten to prevent a romance before it even starts.
Written and directed by first-time feature filmmaker Darren Le Gallo, the film features a lot of awkwardness, and not in a good way. It’s clear that both Bill and Tina are supposed to be different types of misanthropes, and that Sam and Kate essentially have to try to make up for their respective parent’s quirky ways. But Bill and Tina’s issues are only lightly explored, never becoming all that interesting.
Worse is the coupling of Sam and Kate. Sam is far from the smoothest flirter in the world, and every attempt he makes at wooing Kate is so cringy that it’s painful. The combination of Le Gallo’s basic dialogue and Jake Hoffman’s less-than-stellar acting defuses any romantic potential, as none of it is cute or endearing. It is said at one point that Kate is way out of Sam’s league, and the film does nothing to dispel that notion.
It’s almost like Le Gallo – who’s married to Amy Adams, an executive producer on the film – had the idea of putting both pairs of parent and child together in a film, and couldn’t figure out what to do from there. The film is competently made, but the story is never involving or convincing in the slightest. The characters merely exist without a compelling reason for telling their stories.
Each of the actors does what they can with the material, with varying degrees of success. Neither Dustin Hoffman or Spacek delivers an Oscar-quality performance, but that seems to have more to do with the filmmaking than them. Fisk has the best role in the film, which isn’t saying much, but she maintains her appeal throughout.
In naming the film Sam & Kate instead of Bill & Tina, Le Gallo seems to have been trying to pass the baton from one generation to the next, but he forgot to come up with a good story in the process. Both the Oscar-winning actors and their progeny deserved a better showcase.
Sam & Kate is now playing in select theaters; it will be available on-demand at home starting November 18.