Like a history lesson delivered by an excited and affable — if inexperienced — teacher, “The Samuel Project” means well and will likely move audiences, despite its own undermining efforts. The emotional power of the event that inspired it — the Holocaust — as well as a likable cast mean that this earnest drama is ultimately more successful than it probably deserves to be.
Much to the annoyance of his father (Michael B. Silver), high school student Eli (Ryan Ochoa) isn’t interested in anything other than drawing. However, a school project assigned by his media teacher (Philippe Bowgen) finally catches his attention. He has recently learned of the experiences of his Jewish grandfather Samuel (Hal Linden) during World War II, and he thinks the inspiring survival story will make for a great animated short film.
With a script that struggles to fill 90 minutes, director Marc Fusco’s film sometimes feels more like a school project itself rather than a feature film. Its low-budget constraints, animated interludes and overall amateurish filmmaking hamper the efforts of the actors, but there’s real feeling and a strong message that shines through. Despite its flaws, “The Samuel Project” is likely to make an impact on open-hearted audiences, with extra credit due Linden for an authentic performance in line with the actor’s body of work.
‘The Samuel Project’
Rating: PG-13, for thematic elements, some suggestive comments and brief language
Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills; Laemmle Town Center 5, Encino; Edwards Westpark 8, Irvine