I'm not sure what kind of film Second Samuel would have been if first-time director J. Wayne Patterson Jr. hadn't found a way to hold it all together with an abundance of heart, but I'm fairly confident it wouldn't have been half the indie gem that Patterson has crafted working from an original stage play by Pamela Parker. Second Samuel is an unusual beast of a film, uncommonly insightful yet frequently funny and emotionally honest while weaving a tapestry of southern faith meets social justice.
The film is set in 1949 in the fictional Georgia town of Second Samuel, a sleepy little place so named because the original town of Samuel once burned down all the way to the ground and had to be rebuilt.
Or at least that's the story we're told.
The film's narrator is one B. Flatt (Hamilton Sage, Through the Glass Darkly; The Act), an autistic young man beloved by most in the town who develops a pen-pal relationship with none other than President Harry S. Truman (played by Truman's real-life grandson Clifton Truman Daniel). When one of the town's most beloved figures and B. Flatt's self-identified best friend, Miss Gertrude (Monica Helms), suddenly dies, the town of Second Samuel is tossed into a tizzy by a long held secret of Miss Gertrude's that is suddenly revealed.
“Ever’body’s got a secret," ya know?
While the story of Second Samuel sounds simple enough, rest assured that there's a whole lot more going on in this Georgia town on the cusp of the civil rights movement where the "n" word is still spewed like venom and where the "r" word, "retarded," is tossed out casually even by those said to be enlightened. Undoubtedly knowing the delicacy of the material he was tackling, Patterson wisely sought script review and guidance along the way and involved both GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) and the Dove Christian Foundation. The film holds the Dove Seal of Approval for Ages 12+.
See, there's that uncommon insight.
While I will confess the master stroke would have been to have cast an autistic actor as B. Flatt, the truth is that Hamilton Sage performs admirably in capturing the common characteristics of autism, such as "stimming" and communication challenges, without ever letting them fall into caricature. Sage spent much of his early adult career working in the field of autism, a field this critic continues to work in, and his sensitivity and insight is evident throughout.
Plus, to be honest, Sage is just really, really good here.
Sage's B. Flatt is the undeniable heartbeat of Second Samuel, a young man who in 1949 could have just as easily been sent off to an institution as we were still over a couple decades away from anything resembling civil rights for those with disabilities bubbling to the surface and the attitudes and language here, while for the most part rather genteel, reflects those commonly held beliefs and stereotypes. B. Flatt has enough self-awareness to realize he's "different," a knowledge that comes to life in a couple of scenes that are absolutely riveting. Sage infuses B. Flatt with rich humanity that shines through yet never lets us forget the myriad of ways in which autism is an every day, every moment reality for B. Flatt.
For the most part, Second Samuel's stage roots are obvious throughout in the same way that anyone watching a film like Fried Green Tomatoes could most likely guess it is based on a stage play. This isn't a weakness, far from it, as Second Samuel is a brilliant vehicle for ensemble acting and this ensemble is more than up to the task.
While Sage's B. Flatt is the film's cornerstone, this is truly an ensemble that shines. The film reunites Selma actors E. Roger Mitchell, Stan Houston, and Clay Chappell, while Bethany Anne Lind (Ozark; Blood on Her Name) also stars. Mitchell is extraordinary here as U.S. Simpson, a Black man who is seemingly well liked in the town but who is also, in subtle and not so subtle ways, constantly aware of "his place." He's a trusted confidante of B. Flatt's, who by the end of the film has fairly well sold us on his own uncommon insight that the things we think make us different really don't. Lind, as pastor's wife Jimmy Jones, picked up a well deserved Best Actress prize at the London International Motion Picture Awards where the film also won Best International Narrative/Fiction Feature Film. Lind is rather glorious here as the spiritually smarmy Jimmy, who's rather easy to dislike for a good majority of the film but whose transformation is absolutely amazing to watch in Lind's able hands.
Stan Houston shines as Mansel Dean, while Clay Chappell hits a home run late in the film as Oxford Mozel. Grammy winning-musician T. Graham Brown is memorable as Raymond Dean, while Benji Dean and Nancy Brooks give the film some of its lighter moments as husband-and-wife Frisky and Omaha Nebraska Madison. Anna Kate Patterson is wonderful as Ruby, Patti Rutland-Simpson is fantastic as Marcella, Bill Lipscomb is strong as Doc Raybun, and the rest of the cast, including Wesley Truman Daniel as Pastor Bobby, really excels in bringing to life a story that tackles racism, gender identity bias, disability, and mental health stigma and does so with richness of humanity and dignity throughout.
Second Samuel also picked up multiple prizes at the Southeast Regional Film Festival including Best Feature, Best Acting, and Most Original Feature Film while Patterson came in as runner-up for his directorial debut. Picked up by indie distributor Stonecutter Media, Second Samuel was released on a good majority of the major TVOD platforms on July 1st including Amazon Prime where you can watch it by clicking on the link in the credits.
Second Samuel is an intelligent and emotionally honest film with questions as relevant today as they would have been in 1949. Does being different mean being less? Should a person be condemned because they aren't who or what we thought they were?
What does it really mean to love your neighbor?
Second Samuel will make you think. Second Samuel will make you feel. Second Samuel will both entertain and challenge you and it may even leave you contemplating a social media-driven world where we judge before listening and cancel before showing compassion. Beautifully photographed by F. Scott Kennedy and a terrific directorial debut by J. Wayne Patterson Jr., Second Samuel is available for rental or purchase on all major cable, satellite and digital providers including Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play, Comcast, Charter Communications, Cox Cable, AT&T U-verse, Dish Network, Direct TV, Fandango, Vudu and more.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic