Movie Review - Sam (2015)

by Emily


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Tags: movies 1, tg 1, tgmovie 1, MovieReview 1, tgtransformation 1
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https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1309379/

Year: Made for the Nashville Film Festival in 2015, released briefly in theaters in 2016, but for some reason, IMDb says 2017.

Produced, Written and Directed by: Nicholas Brooks (son of the legendary Mel Brooks who financed this. Nepotism is alive and well folks)

Country: United States

Language: English

Type of story: Magical gender transformation

Does it show the transformation? No

Sexuality: Becomes straight*

Nudity: No

How I watched it: Free on Vudu, but you can watch it on Amazon Prime too (Watch Here)

When I last watched it: May 21, 2023


Back when I reviewed Switch, I was of the opinion that Sam was a better remake of it. I figured it was time to actually review Sam. This time I can totally compare Sam to Switch. Does Sam, with 20 years of hindsight, make a better movie?


My synopsis (spoiler-free):

From Nicholas Brooks, the son of funny-man Mel Brooks, we get a very unfunny retelling of Switch. Sam Wellerman (Brock Harris) is a chauvinistic pig. Well, he’s only one pig of many in this movie. After he complains about women and marriage, he is magically transformed into one (Natalie Knepp). She’s given no direction and no means to turn back. With nowhere to turn, she must convince her best friend “Doc” (Sean Kleier) that she’s Sam, and she must navigate a man’s world as she returns to work as his cousin, Samantha.


* * Spoilers ahead * *

And that’s it. That’s the plot. Sam (and the movie’s audience) meanders through those obstacles with no clear direction to get to the end. No hero’s journey. No problem to solve. It’s very “slice of life.”


The transformation: After a bachelor party, Sam drunkenly stumbles to “Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe” where the shopkeeper (Stacy Keach) offers him tea and tries to change Sam’s mind that women have more than one purpose. This goes way over his head and Sam goes home. The tea the shopkeeper gives Sam is the transformation agent. The actual transformation is done entirely off screen while the character sleeps (like most movies I’ve reviewed thus far). Sam wakes up to his alarm, trudges to the bathroom, drops his drawers and… clichéd I-lost-my-penis scream!


This movie wants to be feminist, but falls flat. In the opening minutes of the movie, we have Sam complaining about other female patrons at a restaurant. Between women having incomprehensible to men “girl talk”, other women crying at a movie, and the guys complaining about it, we get inundated with stereotypes right out of the gate. Then we get treated to Sam’s job. He’s a high ranking executive who works for a lingerie company - seriously. It’s owned by Mr. Cavalo (James McCaffrey) who is even more chauvinistic than Sam. No, let me correct that. He’s downright rapey and it’s implied he sexually assaults his female employees. Sam acts the same way. Flirting with co-workers, putting down his secretary Margaret (Lucille Sharp), and eating up every word Mr. Cavalo says. And we’re still in the first five minutes of this movie! Then we get treated to a Bachelor Party - with strippers! This movie doesn’t let up! Eventually we’re treated to other female characters. Cynthia (Sarah Scott) who is the absolute worst fiance ever. Lulu (Morgan Fairchild) who could have a positive impact on the movie as a female executive, but instead pushes the same “femininity as a weapon” bullshit. Her inappropriate workplace interactions with Mr. Cavalo are meant to be funny, but come off as cringeworthy.


But there are moments when it tries to apologize for all of this. Showing how Mr. Cavalo treats men and women differently, and Samantha calling him out on it. Other female co-workers having Samantha’s back. The idea Sam only got ahead because it was on Margaret’s shoulders. Samantha demanding equal pay. But then you get Lulu using sex as a carrot to get what she wants from Mr. Cavalo. You get Cynthia trying to buy-off Samantha. God, even the token gay guy, Mr. Blondell, (Bryan Batt) the “image consultant” treats his female employees like shit. And everything he teaches Samantha is about how to use her feminine wiles to seduce men. 


Sigh.


I wanted to write a good review, but once you see the flaws, the whole thing unravels.


Does this Movie pass the Bechdel test? Almost. For only half of one scene. Sam and Margaret talk about how good of a job she’s been doing, and how she deserves a promotion - but that scene is ruined, because Margaret impulsively decides to confide in Samantha about her crush on male Sam. Doh! So close. You had one job to do, movie. You failed it.


You’d think a movie about becoming a woman would pass this easier? Nope. Sam and Cynthia talk about Doc. Sam and coworkers talk about Mr. Cavalo. Sam and Lulu never have a scene together without Mr. Cavalo. Sam and Georgette talk about Steve. This movie revolves around men.


It was pointed out to me by one of my proofreaders, that the two unnamed women at the restaurant were talking about clothing colors.  If you remove the “named female character” requirement, this scene would pass the test.  But these two characters are so minor and unnamed, passing this scene feels like cheating the point of this test.


Knepp’s Performance & Sam’s Character Arc: Natalie Knepp does a pretty good job portraying the fast talking crude Sam. It’s believable as she curses up a storm and is quick to put women down. Thankfully the character and Knepp’s performance softens as Samantha starts to accept her femininity. And boy does she have a glow-up! She’s cute at first, but stunning by the end of the movie.


I was disappointed that Switch didn’t have Amanda get a Pretty-Woman-esque makeover. Samantha does. Complete with montage! It’s just a shame Mr. Blondell is such a “queer-eye” caricature too. He pushes the whole “femininity is a tool to be used against men” narrative I mentioned earlier.


Sam becomes more feminine and less brusk as the film goes on. Having walked a few miles in women’s shoes, she starts standing up for her female co-workers and herself which is nice.


Sexuality: Sam’s sex drive drops off a cliff once he turns into a woman. Is she asexual? (She had a few choice words for her lack of sex drive that I won't repeat). But no, it turns out she’s attracted to Doc. Does this mean she’s now a straight woman? Or just demisexual. I bet the movie’s creators don’t even know what demisexual is, so I’ll dismiss that and go all “Occam's razor.” Samatha is straight, like the writers. I could’ve even been made to believe that Sam was always asexual, given his lack of commitment to women initially. But again, I don’t want to pretend the makers of this movie thought about that possibility.


How it ends: At midnight she turns into a pumpkin. Well... at midnight she has a choice. She’s to return to Ye Old Curiosity Shoppe to make her choice. But society the movie has made that choice for her. She fell in love with Doc. And he with her. Yay, go cis-heteronormity! We wouldn’t want to put any gender or sexuality questioning thoughts into the audience now, would we? Oh - and she yearns for a baby like a good cis woman should do /s. So when she kisses Doc, asks him for a ride, and goes to the Shopkeeper, you already know what’s gonna happen. She stays Samantha. Shocker.


Random Notes: 

  • True, women were crying at the bar watching a chick-flick. Yes - sexist stereotype. Men complaining about the women crying and asking to “put the game on instead” - another sexist stereotype. But let's be honest - what bar is putting that chick-flick on?

  • So let’s talk DNA. Sam cuts off a lock of her hair and leaves it with Doc. He must know the people down at the CSI crime lab. Sam and Samantha have closer DNA than identical twins. I’m not convinced that’s how DNA works.

  • Clichéd “scream when she gets her first period” cliché.

  • Doc gives Sam some tampons. “What am I supposed to do with these?” she asks.

  • “Chicks only hit chicks in movies, right?” - Sam, right before Cynthia punches her.

  • Sam (after her makeover montage) hints that she might want to be a trans man. So Doc explains to her that it’s gonna take “more than hormones” then shows her an anatomy book. He says it’ll require “major stuff.” I suppose this is 2015, and they don't know you can be trans without hormones or major surgeries.

  • Cynthia sucks. But she’s not wrong to believe Sam has stolen Doc. Doc clearly loves Sam, and not Cynthia. She’s right to dump him. They should’ve left it at that. But then she comes back and starts twirling her mustache.

  • The football scene could’ve been good to show women can play sports too. Instead, the guys - namely Steve, act like this is a boys-only club and uses the game to put down women and sports and grope Sam. I’ve played co-ed sports. They’re just as much fun. I’ve also played co-ed tackle football. Again, just as much fun as long as you’re not a dick. Steve, you’re a dick.

  • Sam and Doc have such a strange friendship. (paraphrased) “Hey doc. Let’s talk about masturbation. Hey - guess who I masturbated to tonight? You!”

  • The entire 3rd act feels rushed. Nicholas Brooks must’ve forgotten how to direct, or realized he was against a deadline and just threw cuts against the wall. Once Sam and Doc realize they are attracted to each other, each subsequent scene moves at breakneck pace to get to the ending with quick scene transitions. It’s as if at that point, Brooks was like “fuck it, I’m bored. Let’s finish this quickly so I can make another misogynistic movie... Oh wait, he hasn’t directed, produced or written another one since? Nevermind then.

  • The movie closes full-circle. Sam was complaining that Steve was marrying Georgette in the beginning. At the end, Sam is Doc's date to that wedding. Sam even sees Georgette in private to give her advice.

  • I kinda wish there was dialog between Sam and the Shopkeeper at the end of the movie. The Shopkeeper was the most interesting character in the entire film.


Overall: On the first watch, I liked it. I thought it was a better Switch. But was it really? Or did I just want it to be better? It’s a 2015 movie that took nearly the same premise as a 1991 movie, but somehow made it more sexist. True, Sam as a character grows more than Amanda. Sam at the end is believable as a woman. And she didn’t die and got a happily ever after, so there’s that. The problem is that most of the characters in this movie are unbearable. A single anti-hero - cool. When the entire cast of characters are insufferable - bad.


Sam vs. Switch? Switch had a real plot - find a woman who likes you and go to heaven.  Sam drops its plot once she unsuccessfully tries to find the Curio Shop to change back early in the movie. What I liked about Sam is that Sam’s arc feels more complete than Amanda’s. Sam goes from a misogynistic guy to a woman who isn’t afraid to stand up for other women. Amanda, meanwhile, accidentally gets knocked up and that’s her arc. She doesn’t really change too much. At least Amanda tried to be a lesbian for a hot second. I liked that Doc tries to explain that Sam is demisexual (my interpretation). The settings are nearly identical: big city; Sam and Amanda are executives with female-focused branding; they’re women in a man’s industry. I think it’s important to note that this was made two years before #MeToo. So these creepy male caricatures are still central characters. And they’re proud of it! If this movie had been made only three years later, I bet it would’ve avoided some of those tropes and could’ve been better… or it wouldn’t have been made at all. I really wanted Lulu to be a positive feminine role model for Sam.


The problem with mainstream TF/TG writers is that they write their stories as another way to retell “The Battle of the Sexes.” That’s how they frame their movies. It’s always about comparing stereotypes for laughs, never about knocking down barriers and self-reflection. It’s never about diving into true masculinity and femininity. It’s like every mainstream TF/TG writer wants to be Woody Allen. I’m still waiting for that elusive TF/TG movie that really tells a transgender story and avoids the tropes all of these tend to fall into.


Should you watch it? Watch it so we can discuss it together. Watch it so we can continue to be on the lookout for better movies. But it won’t be winning any awards.



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Emily

Hi, I'm Emily and I'm writing Gender Transformation Fiction! This site is a place for me to keep all of my stories in one place. I'm also a software developer in the daytime, so this site will also be a proving ground of cool new features that pop into my head. Feel free to message me on Twitter or at my Discord Server! You can also find me on TGStorytime.com and FictionMania.tv.

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marter

I'm surprised they allowed the MC to stay a woman. Have you thought about doing a review of The Skin I Live In?
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Emily

You brought up a good point I hadn't thought of. This is the first story I reviewed that the MC stayed gender swapped (except Switch, but she died and didn't decide on a ghost gender). I have not heard of The Skin I Live In. I'll look it up. Thanks!
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