I Am Sam (2001)
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Review Date: January 19, 2002
Director: Jessie Nelson
Writer: Jessie Nelson and Kristine Johnson
Producers: Jessie Nelson, Edward Zwick
Sean Penn as Sam Dawson
Michelle Pfeiffer as Rita Harrison
Dianne Wiest as Annie
A mentally challenged man who raises his daughter from birth to the age of seven, must now demonstrate his ability to raise her beyond that age in court. You see, his mental capacity is also that of a seven-year old, so Social Services isn't convinced that he is the best person to oversee her continued societal development. Lawyers, Starbucks, court sequences and lots of Beatle song covers ensue.
A TV movie of the week-esque storyline, a mentally challenged lead character and a court battle all add up to an obvious "Oscar" hungry flick, but this film doesn't provide the consistent depth, believability or emotional impact, needed to support itself or its inflated runtime. But give it up to Sean Penn for continuing to showcase his range with yet another exceptional portrayal, this time of a man with limited intelligence, with the added bonus of comedic elements in his character, as well as the dramatic. It's one thing for an actor to portray a disabled individual, but it's another for that person to give you enough reason to care about them and to convey believable emotions throughout. Slap this dude in the Best Actor category...once again! As for Pfeiffer, well...I can't say that I was too crazy about her character. Here's a person who is pretty despicable from frame one and barely changes as the film moves along, up until the last half hour or so, at which point she's suddenly struck by lightning? I didn't buy it. I thought that they made her character too one-dimensional to start off with and the transformation just didn't work for me (it was also too obvious a plot device-he helps her as much as she helps him?) What else pissed me off about the film? How about the over-saturation of "Beatles" references. Granted, the lead character relates a lot of the things around him to the popular English band, and that's all fine and dandy, but when signs on the street start saying "Revolution" (a Beatles song) and one of the more poignant lines in the film has the kid saying "All you need is love" (another Beatles tune), you sorta can't help but roll your eyes.

I did appreciate the fact that they didn't turn everyone who was "against" Penn's character in the movie into one-dimensional demons (including the opposing lawyer, the foster mom, the judge, etc...), but found it strange to see how many people would use so many big words when speaking to Penn's 7-year old mind. I mean, here's his psychiatrist saying, "Your confidentiality is waved, Sam...do you understand?"-it's like, "Hullo?!? The man has the mind of a 7-year old!!! How about just saying, "Whatever we discuss here is not going to stay between us"? Geez...and for God's sakes, give the poor bastard his friggin' kid back already! Anyway, maybe that was part of the point of the movie (everyone is stupid once in a while). As for the actual "court battle", I was into it for the most part (although it ran on for too long), but what the hell happened in the end? (and since when can a foster family make up the court's mind for them?) Anyway, it may sound like I'm dissing most of the film, and it definitely does deserve some hits, but Penn's performance was seriously awesome and the rapport with his daughter was also on the ball (played by the excellent Dakota Fanning). And yeah...if you're asking yourself if I cried during this sappy flick, I will admit to having choked a couple back here and there.

Is the film predictable? Yeah. Are there unanswered questions? Definitely (why isn't anyone taking into consideration the fact that this mentally challenged man was able to raise his kid from birth, and turn her into one of the more "together" kids that I've ever seen!) Is the film over-directed at times? Sure. But the audience with whom I saw this movie was also cracking up during many scenes (most of which featured Penn's mentally challenged buddies hanging about), and I have to admit that I smiled here and there as well. So do I recommend it? Well, if this is the type of schtick that you dig in films, than you might just enjoy it, but if you're not into the whole emotional manipulation thang (and have major problems with movies that use too much product placement), skip it and check out the many other, better, Oscar-bound movies out there instead.
(c) 2018 Berge Garabedian

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