As precious and in love with itself as the title character it celebrates, SAMANTHA is too cute for its own good. Burlesquing an identity crisis involving a young woman's discovery that she was adopted, this coming-of-age movie flutters between fantasy and reality in a facile manner that
defeats its talented cast.
Twenty-one years ago, Samantha (Martha Plimpton) was abandoned on the doorstep of the Perlmutters, who quickly shifted the bundle of joy to the loving home of Walter (Hector Elizondo) and Marilyn (Mary Kay Place). Right before her 21st birthday, her adoptive parents reveal her foundling origin.
Temporarily forgetting their years of patient devotion, high-strung Samantha trashes her party with a half-hearted suicide attempt, vows to find her true parents, and moves in with her life-long buddy Henry (Dermot Mulroney). Flummoxing Walter and Marilyn, infuriating her music professor Milos
(Marvin Silbersher), and disappointing fellow musician Henry, Samantha refuses to play her violin at an upcoming college recital. Re-inventing herself by trying on different nationalities and identities, she drives Henry crazy as she tries to find herself.
By the time Henry replaces her with professional violinist Elaine (Ione Skye), who becomes his love interest, it's apparent that Sam's set her sights on Henry. Still, Samantha advertises herself on TV as a 21 year-old orphan and hopes the wicker basket she was abandoned in will hold some clues.
Withholding a hospital tag she discovered in the baby basket, Elaine only turns it over to Sam on the eve of the recital. When Sam locates her birth parents through the hospital i.d. bracelet, she's shocked to discover that the Ottos (Maryedith Burrell and Robert Picardo) are self-centered bores.
Finally Samantha appreciates the life Walter and Marilyn gave her; she no longer wants to be "Helen Otto." Angered by Elaine's duplicity, Henry locks her in the school bathroom and coaxes a chastened Samantha out of the audience at the recital to help him make the concert and their relationship
both smashing successes.
By the time the climactic recital arrives, viewers won't care whether Sam has found peace or not. Rather than grapple honestly with Sam's quest for her identity and wringing laughter from that genuine confusion, this light-hearted comedy conjures silly comic interludes from the central conflict.
The comedy is far-fetched, the pathos is non-existent, and Martha Plimpton can't mitigate this neurotic character's overbearing nature. Selfishness that might be tolerable in a tot becomes downright obnoxious in an adult, and while the film obviously means us to find Sam's every wacky action
hilarious, irritation and disdain soon intrude.
On the plus side, tomboyish Plimpton does her best to barrel through the nonsense and propel the comedy forward, and Mulroney is a deft, engaging light comedian. The movie's most effective scene, one which balances poignancy and black humor, reunites Sam with her long-lost parents, the Ottos. As
they coolly prattle on about what a wonderful picnic basket they abandoned her in, one has a sense of the film's potential. Instead of this painfully funny character-driven kind of comedy, SAMANTHA settles for cute eccentricity. Its best intentions are abandoned on the doorstep of the House of
Sitcom. (Profanity, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1993
- Rating: PG
- Review: As precious and in love with itself as the title character it celebrates, SAMANTHA is too cute for its own good. Burlesquing an identity crisis involving a young woman's discovery that she was adopted, this coming-of-age movie flutters between fantasy and… (more)