Sam, Now was filmed over such a long time it becomes its own definition of multimedia, derived from roughly equal parts Super 8 film and Hi 8 and Digital Video. It also encompasses documentary-style road movies and drama, but all this variety in its DNA just makes it stronger. It began as a series of jokey childhood shorts filmed around Seattle with director Reed Harkness’s forever pratfalling younger half-brother Sam playing The Blue Panther, a costumed adventurer in a short-sleeved wetsuit and luchador mask.
Young Reed named a series of films after his brother, starting with Sam One, Sam Two, etc. They got to about Sam Five when their mother, Jois (pronounced Joyce), disappears into thin air one winter. In the few years of disbelief that follow, the family soldiers on. He suggests seventeen-year-old Sam make The Blue Panther Finds His Mom, and that’s where Sam, Now picks up, with Sam agreeing to voyage to the unknown. Incredibly, they film it as one of their bright little adventures.
“…their mother, Jois, disappears into thin air one winter.”
What Harkness has done here is truly remarkable, finessing a moving and technically rich piece out of thin air. It helps that his story has mystery dropped into it from nowhere, but the big takeaway is that he is a born filmmaker with an unerring instinct for corralling the chaos of life into a good story. What emerges is a sensitive yet gripping voyage into a sort of American Heart of Darkness, with a dramatic separation as its Congo. You can only admire the bravery of Harkness and his brother as they set out to find their mother dressed as a thrift store Black Panther. The story that emerges is unique and not quickly forgotten.
The tale is leavened brilliantly by a soundtrack crammed with blistering punk, gutsy garage, and pensive Americana. The photography is excellent. Especially the dream-like Super 8. The extended family is thoughtfully presented and universally great, bringing a lot of color and interesting perspectives to the riddle at the heart of their lives, and never once feeling misused.
Sam, Now manages to rise above having effectively the same title as Sean Penn’s I Am Sam, lampooned so well in Tropic Thunder for it’s deathly dramatic worthiness. I would have liked a title veered more toward prequel pulp, like Return of the Blue Panther, but then that may have alarmed Marvel’s giant lawyers?