"Sam & Kate" a lovely showcase for Hoffman, Spacek, and their kids

Sam & Kate (2022)

One can see why writer-director Darren Le Gallo (husband to Amy Adams, who serves as a producer) would want to make a movie with two of cinema’s titans and their children. No chemistry read is really necessary when it’s Dustin Hoffman and his son, Jake Hoffman, and Sissy Spacek and her daughter, Schuyler Fisk. A family affair like “Sam & Kate” is not some vanity project but rather a quaint, benign dramedy that actually gives these four actors characters to play and characters we care about. What’s more, they’re all wonderful together.

The “Sam” in the title, played by Jake Hoffman, is a struggling artist in his thirties, working at the local chocolate factory. He also lives and takes care of his ailing father, Bill (Dustin Hoffman), whom Sam even calls by his first name. “Kate,” played by Schuyler Fisk, is a bookstore owner who Sam meets one afternoon, only to reenter Sam’s life when Bill and Sam go to evening mass. They end up running into Kate and Tina (Sissy Spacek), who’s acquainted with Bill, when Kate has some car trouble. Kate may not be ready for a relationship, given her past, but Sam is awfully persistent. Of course, Bill tries courting Tina while he still has time left, but Tina harbors her own trauma as a hoarder. All four characters have lost someone, and we sure hope they can discover there’s plenty of life to still experience. 

The film is writer-director Darren Le Gallo’s directorial debut, and while there’s some interpersonal conflict that won’t be difficult to clock, “Sam & Kate” excels most when Le Gallo just lets his actors interact. The love between these cinematic stalwarts and their adult children cannot be faked. An adorably cantankerous Dustin Hoffman and a quirky Sissy Spacek have a lovely way with each other and acquit their characters with enough interest, perhaps Tina a bit more than Bill. Schuyler Fisk, who should have made it big during her one-two punch of “Snow Day” and “Orange County” in the early aughts, is effervescent, charming, and affecting as Kate. She fares better than Jake Hoffman, who’s affable but annoyingly persistent at first as Sam; to be fair, Fisk has more to work with, considering Kate has been through so much in her life when Sam has barely started his life. Sam says it himself; he’s self-loathing and needs to love himself before somebody else. Henry Thomas also shows up as Sam’s stoner best friend in a few amusing scenes. 

Sweet, touching, and R-rated only for naughty swears, “Sam & Kate” is a small film that puts all of its trust in the character dynamics and the actors playing them. It isn’t going to solve world peace, nor does it reinvent cinema, but it’s likable and sincere without cynicism. Sometimes, it's just pleasant watching appealing people in a story that doesn’t talk down to its audience.

Grade: B

Vertical Entertainment released “Sam & Kate” (110 min.) in select theaters on November 11, 2022.