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Slamdance Film Review: Sam’s World

Film Reviews

Slamdance Film Review: Sam’s World
Director: Lily Lady

The Solo Foundation
Premiere: 1.21

Lily Lady, a New York-based writer, had never made a film before. They had never acted, never directed—nothing of the sort. Of course, you would never know that based on the tender love and care that went into Lady’s debut featurette, Sam’s World, which follows a few days in the life of Sam, a wistful twenty-something sex worker (played by Lady) in the midst of a pregnancy scare. Lady, having experience with sex work themself, approaches the subject matter with both gentleness and matter-of-factness, reminiscent of the works of Sean Baker. Although Sam’s World is not without its flaws, the utter humility of the film makes it worth your while.

Sam’s World feels like a notes app poem, an unsent love letter or a diary entry. It’s something so intimate that the viewing experience feels intrusive, as if you’re sneaking a peek at something that wasn’t meant for you to see. But with that, the film finds its voice in its vulnerability. Lady withholds nothing, giving the film a sense of grit and strength where it could’ve easily been written off as another feeble tragedy. Sam’s World is not a sad story and it’s not a happy story; it’s simply Sam’s story. As our protagonist bounces from scene to scene and emotion to emotion, it’s made clear how much Sam’s situation is tearing them apart, but also how others in their life are pulling them back together, again and again. 

A crucial part of the film is Sam’s relationship with their partner, Rex, played by Annie Conolly (Bernard). Rex’s corporate aspirations and discomfort with Sam’s line of work put the two at odds with each other. However, Conolly’s performance as Rex and chemistry with Lady works wonders to cement that, despite it all, these are characters who love each other and truly want the best for one another—they just don’t know what “the best” really means for each of them.

Although the passion for the story is easily felt, Sam’s World falters in its pacing. Most scenes go on for too long, which causes the transitions to be clunky and awkward. In several parts, there are unnecessary shots of a character walking from point A to point B that could have been cut without losing continuity or confusing the audience. Almost every sequence could’ve been about two or three minutes shorter. The 65-minute runtime of the film feels like 90 or 100, which isn’t a bad thing conceptually; however, the film still would benefit from some re-edits to “trim the fat.”

Additionally, there are some noticeable flukes with the sound and dialogue recording that mark the film as unpolished, and not in a cool way. Furthermore, the visual style of the film is somewhat inconsistent throughout. In a scene where Sam and their friends try to enjoy a day on the beach, the color grading and lighting are vastly different from shot to shot. With such a heartfelt story behind it, it’s disappointing that small oversights like these relegated the film to an amateur status, to say the very least. But luckily, both issues can be remedied in post-production to take the film to the next level that it deserves to be at.

Although some of the sound wasn’t quite where it needed to be, that’s not to say Sam’s World was without its sonic highlights. Interpol founding member and multidisciplinary artist Carlos Denger crafts a unique and moving soundscape unlike anything I have heard before. The best way I can describe it is acoustic electronic music, a midway point between melodic and ambient. The score perfectly encapsulates and colors the events of the film without overwhelming it in a way that calls back to a personal favorite score: Jon Brion’s work on Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love.

From top to bottom, Sam’s World has everything it needs to be not just a great queer narrative, but a great human story at large. Sam’s pursuit of control and identity is familiar and tangible to so many people from so many different walks of life. My sincere hope for Sam’s World is that its story isn’t over and that the team behind it goes back in to push it across the finish line. Overall, Sam’s World is a triumphant first try, and I can’t wait to see where Lily Lady goes from here. –Becca Ortmann

Read more of SLUG‘s comprehensive coverage of the 2024 Slamdance Film Festival.