If you found a bag of $100,000 on your front doorstep, what would you do? Pocket it? Call the police? Give it all away? And what would you think of the unknown person who had left it? Was it really a gesture of complete altruism, or something more sinister?
These are the questions the recent Netflix film “Good Sam” explores. Although the brief, slightly Hallmark-ish movie could have used more plot and character development, overall it succeeds in conveying the encouraging truth that true generosity is contagious and attractive.
Based on the novel by Dete Meserve and directed by Kate Melville, “Good Sam” follows a plucky young TV news reporter named Kate Bradley (Tiya Sircar).
An expert in covering the “bummer beat” of car crashes and burning buildings in New York City, Kate’s penchant for taking risks earns her not just successful news runs but also her boss’ enraged reminders about liabilities.
Reluctantly, Kate accepts a safer assignment: a woman whose family has been struggling to make ends meet has found a bag of $100,000 on her doorstep and is convinced it is from a “good samaritan.”
Wondering where the story is, Kate and her endearing cameraman Josh (Jesse Camacho) visit the teary-eyed woman, who expresses gratitude at the “miracle” Good Sam has brought her. Over the next few days, more bags of money appear, and altruistic acts multiply across the city.
What began as feel-good filler news turns into a mystery and a movement that becomes her news station’s top story. Besides the obvious question of who Good Sam is, an even more puzzling question hounds Kate: Does Good Sam really expect nothing in return?
Such a radical notion poses a challenge to the filmmakers as much as it does to Kate Bradley. How do you make a story of good deeds compelling when what all that seems to sell are stories of deceit and violence?
A plot like this needs to draw viewers in steadily, helping them get to know and trust the characters, so that they buy into the story rather than write it off as artificial.
At first, “Good Sam” struggles with this. We first meet Kate rushing to catch footage of a fire rescue, and then almost immediately jump into her back-and-forth with her team in the office. The portrayals of a cranky boss, the chipper news team, and ambitious reporters don’t offer much originality in their acting or overcoming stereotypes of the modern American TV newsroom.
What’s more, the mystery of Good Sam himself unfolds a tad too quickly. The second bag of money appears very soon after the first, and before the viewers can blink, a third viewer has already got security camera footage of Good Sam.
This rapid pace makes the narrative feel less organic. With a running time of only an hour and a half, these hurdles could have been overcome with a little more time dedicated to character development and a few more plot points.
Luckily, the artificial flavor soon fades. Indeed, “Good Sam’s” best quality is that it becomes more interesting as it progresses. A few clever plot twists help a film that could have been completely cheesy avoid the pitfall of predictability. But the main driver of this improvement are the central relationships in the film.
As Kate interacts with the smooth-talking hedge fund manager Jack Hansen (Marco Grazzini) and the clean-cut firefighter Eric Hayes (Chad Connell), her own personality and feelings weave their way into the Good Sam story, adding more complicated layers.
Suddenly, the lively reporter is straddling the line between chasing a growing news story and discovering what good human character really means.
Nothing makes that discovery more captivating than the interaction between Kate and Eric. From the moment he first opens his apartment door to her, their chemistry is instantly clear. The unassuming, courteous fireman stops the relentless reporter in her tracks.
Suddenly, she finds herself talking to him not as an interviewee but as a person — the beginning of a natural, unforced romance that propels the movie forward. It allows the filmmakers to show (rather than force into a hackneyed script, as happens elsewhere in the script) that simple kindness and selflessness are the most powerful and appealing qualities in a human person.
Connell’s stellar acting creates a loveable character that not only ties the film together but also brings out the best in the other characters. His first encounter with Kate triggers an adorably humorous reaction from Josh, and other moments between the two make up the film’s best displays of raw emotion and affection.
The need for a greater emphasis on Kate and Eric’s relationship goes beyond their good chemistry. It also would have strengthened the movie’s message that altruism like Good Sam’s means nothing if only for personal gain.
Eric’s noble character and love for Kate contrast the less-than-selfless characters in the film. Making that contrast even more prominent would have made all the more convincing the idea that genuine concern for others is the key to changing hearts and finding joy.
As they come to know one another more, Kate and Eric unearth an even more profound reality: that Good Sam isn’t the most important story. His spirit of service and her eagerness to find the truth gradually make clear that even more valuable than large, anonymous donations is the love that inspires someone to take care of others in the little things of each day.
This uplifting message also could have blossomed much more. But by the end, Melville delivers it with enough credibility to make the film a rewarding one.
“Good Sam” has its kinks, but that’s because it’s an experimental film, one that could be the pioneer of a new kind of drama that unites compelling narrative with an optimistic outlook on life. It remains to be seen whether future films might follow in breaking away from the cynicism so common in today’s Hollywood and offer an uplifting alternative.
But for now, there’s at least one option on Netflix there to remind us of the possibility — and power — of human selflessness.
Sophia Buono is a writer living in Arlington, Virginia.
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