Sam & Kate

You don't need to actually see Sam & Kate to know it's going to be interesting, you just need to look at the names associated with it. The movie was written and directed by Darren Le Gallo, whose wife – Oscar-nominated actress Amy Adams – is one of the producers. The stars are two Hollywood legends and their children, Dustin Hoffman and son Jake, and Sissy Spacek and daughter Schuyler Fisk. E.T. star Henry Thomas has a supporting role. That's a lot of great names right there. The film itself is not necessarily going to light the world on fire, but it's an appealing romantic-dramedy that provides two hours of solid entertainment.

Sam (played by the younger Hoffman) is a guy who has essentially failed to launch. He lives with his aging father Bill (the elder Hoffman), works in a chocolate factory, and spends his free time getting high with pal Ron (Thomas). He wanders into a book store one day after spotting owner Kate (Fisk) through the window. Sam makes an effort to hit on her, which she politely rebuffs. Soon after, the two run into each other again, this time in church, where she's with her mom Tina (Spacek). Things happen, and soon Sam and Kate are in a friendship that may or may not lead to romance. Meanwhile, Bill and Tina also take a shine to each other.

Hearing the plot described probably makes Sam & Kate sound trite. A father and son falling for a mother/daughter combo? Seems like the recipe for a stupid comedy about how awkward that could be. It's true that the film does utilize a lot of rom-com staples, from the “meet cute” to the requisite music montage, but none of them are played in a cloying manner. Le Gallo isn't interested in making How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, he wants to tell a story with deeper resonance. He just chooses to wrap the plot's heavier elements into a comforting formula.

Hour two is where the movie truly starts to shine. Kate finds her defenses wearing down, almost against her will. The reason why those defenses are there in the first place is revealed, causing Sam to re-evaluate what their relationship means. A subplot about Tina's hoarding problem, meanwhile, is surprisingly compelling and, even better, used to add layers to the characters. Tension arises between Bill and Sam, as well, allowing us to see how different their perspectives on life are. Instead of a dumb romance, the film gives us a group of people who feel real, in situations that have a ring of authenticity.

Of course, the performances are fantastic. Jake Hoffman and Schuyler Fisk have a nice, easygoing chemistry together, making it easy to invest in what happens between the central couple. Watching them play opposite their real-life parents guarantees that the relationships depicted are truthful and sincere. And what a treat to behold Dustin Hoffman and Sissy Spacek sharing screen time – something they've never done before. Even if there's not enough of them together, the pairing is in itself reason enough to see the film.

Certain elements of Sam & Kate are predictable. For example, anyone familiar with Roger Ebert's old rule about people who cough in movies will see what's coming long before it actually does. And yet, looking past those clichés is easy, thanks to the quality of the acting and the inherent meaning in the story. This is the kind of adult love story we don't get enough of anymore.

out of four

Sam & Kate is rated R for some drug use and language. The running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes.