I Am Sam

Directed by Jessie Nelson
Starring: Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer, Laura Dern, Dakota Fanning, Dianne Wiest.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language.

Review by Eugene Kopman <eugene@filmhead.com>
February 16, 2002

This, to me, is the most disappointing movie of 2001. After so much hype and a great cast, I Am Sam was a let down for me and a lot of people in the theatre.

Sam Dawson (Sean Penn) is a mentally challenged adult with the mind capacity of a 7-year-old. Due to his gullibility, he has a child with a homeless woman that he took in. After the child is born, the woman leaves him and leaves the baby girl behind. It is now Sam's job to raise the baby on his own. It is obvious that he is incapable of that. He works at Starbucks and earns $8 an hour. He enlists the help of Annie (Dianne Wiest), his neighbor, and his friends who all have some sort of mental defect.

Sam tries his best to raise his daughter, Lucy Diamond Dawson (Dakota Fanning), who was named after the Beatle song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds". Social Services, on the other hand, think that Lucy deserves better. In a fight to get back his daughter, Sam gets Rita Harrison (Michelle Pfeiffer), one of the most prestigious lawyers in the city. Lucy is a very smart girl; at the age of 7 she manages to outsmart some adults. Unfortunately, until the court allows, she is not able to see her father, which is something she desires.

Sean Penn got a well-deserved Oscar nomination for his portrayal of a mentally challenged person. His performance is touching on many different levels. Dakota Fanning, for a newcomer, is great. She plays a very tough character and handles it well. Dianne Wiest and Michelle Pfeiffer deliver the performances one tends to expect from such good caliber actresses. The only performance that did nothing for me was Laura Dern as Lucy's foster mother. She is either good or bad; in this case, it wasn't a good performance.

But the main problem was the movie itself. It is a very good idea to show a mentally incapacitated man trying to raise a baby girl. Unfortunately the screenplay was laughable. It felt like Jessie Nelson, who wrote The Story of Us and Stepmom, and wrote and directed this film, thought that everyone in the movie was retarded, because the dialogue was so unsophisticated and childish that it was painful to listen to the people talk. Also the film is slow -- very slow. The movie felt like it was four hours long when it was just over two. It was so slow that by the time the trial started, I didn't really care.

The best part of the movie was the soundtrack. Sam Dawson is a big Beatles fan, so the smartest decision Miss Nelson did was fill the film with various covers of Beatle songs like "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away", "Blackbird", and many more. Just another example of how a soundtrack can be better than the film itself.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
I Am Sam (2001)

Here's some merchandise for sale at Amazon.com
I Am Sam: Music From and Inspired By the Motion Picture -- Compact Disc
I Am Sam: Original Motion Picture Score -- Compact Disc

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