The Samuel Project at the Asheville Jewish Film Festival
All you need to know about The Samuel Project is that Hal Linden plays the title character, an 80-something San Diego dry cleaner. He leans into what could have been a Jewish caricature and turns Samuel into a rich portrayal of a man who has struggled to leave his past behind, guarding himself with wit and a veneer of bitterness.
The movie's rather uncomplicated plot has Samuel's grandson Eli (Disney Channel grad Ryan Ochoa) get an assignment from his high school media class at about the same time Samuel drags him along to meet a dying woman the old man hasn't seen since he was a boy during World War II. Eli, a budding animator, decides to make his grandfather's untold story the subject of his project, the culmination of which is well worth waiting for.
The Samuel Project is hobbled by some student-film quality performances in lesser roles, but Ochoa holds his own as Eli. Along the the casually terrific Linden, and the two elevate the well-meaning but predictable screenplay (co-written by director Marc Fusco) into a touching lesson about the importance of remembering.
Also boosting the film throughout are snippets of hand-drawn animation meant to represent Eli’s work. The animation, including the wonderful final project, is by Donald Wallace, who’s clearly had a lot more experience (and more time to work on that Samuel project) than high school senior Eli. But it’s great to see a young animator at work with the tools of his time: a Wacom tablet for digital drawing, and an iMac computer.
“Hand drawn” isn’t what it used to be, but it retains an artistic sensibility completely separate from, say, Pixar. And who doesn’t want to see Barney Miller turns into an animated character?
Grade: B-minus. Rated PG-13. Screens Thursday, March 28, at 7 p.m., and Friday, March 29, at 1 p.m. at the Fine Arts Theatre.
(Photos: In8 Releasing)