I AM SAM
Sam (Sean Penn) is mentally retarded but fathers a daughter with a woman who runs away straight out of hospital. He manages to bring up the baby, with a little help from his kind neighbour and a group of also retarded friends, but when Lucy (Dakota Fanning) reaches 7, the authorities try to take her away from Sam, whose fierce love has created a happy relationship. Even as Lucy begins to overtake her father intellectually, Sam clings to her and persuades smart lawyer Rita (Michelle Pfeiffer) to take his case on a pro bono basis.
Review by Louise Keller:
I Am Sam is a very special film. It is one of those extraordinarily moving films that not only sweeps you away emotionally, but somehow leave you feeling as though you are a better person. Wonderful, isn't it, how a film can do all that? I Am Sam is an emotional tour de force with a heart bigger than the universe. But don't take my word for it, allow your senses and emotions to guide you. Powered by a towering performance by Sean Penn, Jessie Nelson's heartwarming story about an autistic father's uncompromising love for his daughter, is a poignant drama, a comedy of errors, and buddy movie all at once. The combination of an intelligent script, superb performances and John Powell’s score, punctuated by Lennon and McCartney tunes is unbeatable. Penn's multi-layered portrayal of Sam satisfies completely: Sam may be retarded, but there's nothing retarded about his love. We squirm, we are embarrassed, we care for Sam and we are cheering him on all the way. Issues such as what makes a good parent are canvassed judiciously, and the development of the relationship between Sam and Rita Harrison is beautifully handled. Michelle Pfeiffer delivers a wonderful performance as the show pony lawyer dripping of Armani and snobbery. Sam becomes a catalyst for Rita's emotional journey; there's a memorable moment when she confesses she is getting more out of the relationship than Sam. Of course, at the heart of the film is that special relationship between Sam and Lucy. Lucy at the ripe old age of seven, is so worldly and articulate. She is the adult that Sam can never be. The joy in that relationship is so apparent, so moving, so fulfilling, and Dakota Fanning is astonishing as Lucy, named for the song, and a sparkling diamond in her own right. "Nothing's Gonna Change My World….." goes the song 'Across the Universe', but of course everything changes. I Am Sam captivated me; after all, the difference between failure and success is a matter of perception.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
I Am Sam is as challenged as a film as Sam is as an adult intellect. Manically manipulative and clumsy in its eagerness to push the right buttons and smooch its way into our hearts, the script makes a caricature of its characters. Even Sean Penn, one of my favourite actors, seems to be working in a first year acting class here, his mannerisms suggestive of a mix of cerebral palsy and intellectual disability. They are not the same and director Jessie Nelson should have alerted him. What hurts most is the sight of Michelle Pfeiffer in a cardboard role as the hard-ass lawyer going gooey over Sam inside a lawyer’s minute *. Dakota Fanning’s Lucy is impossibly precocious and cute, and given the situation, overbearingly so. With all the elements overdone and over the top, there is no room for us (well, me) to work into the film and absorb it, adopt it, feel it. It’s all emotions by signals. The devices, like Sam’s Beatles mania, is grating enough when confined to his own world, but to have the lawyer called Rita so he can allude to the Meter Maid song is taking things too far. But that’s what the film does best, I guess; take a good story and churn it into mulchy, sloppy garden compost.
* A lawyer’s minute is 15 minutes chargeable time.
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I AM SAM (M)
CAST: Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dakota Fanning, Dianne Wiest, Doug Hutchison, Stanley Desantis', Brad Silverman, Joeseph Rosenberg, Richard Schiff, Laura Dern, Loretta Devine
PRODUCER: Jessie Nelson, Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz, Rick Solomon
DIRECTOR: Jessie Nelson
SCRIPT: Jessie Nelson, Kristine Johnson
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Elliot Davis
EDITOR: Richard Chew
MUSIC: John Powell (Songs by Paul McCartney, John Lennon)
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Aaron Osborne
RUNNING TIME: 132 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 13, 2002
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Entertainment
VIDEO RELEASE: January 15, 2003