I Am Sam


Directed by: Jessie Nelson
Written by:Kristine Johnson, Jessie Nelson
Starring: Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dakota Fanning, Dianne Wiest, Laura Dern, Richard Schiff
Released: June 13, 2002
Grade: C

Sam Dawson (Penn) has the mental capacity of a 7-year-old but for the past 7 years, has raised his daughter, Lucy (Fanning) on his own.  Lucy’s mother ran off after childbirth and against all the odds, Sam has tried hard and Lucy has developed into a beautiful, intelligent young girl.

However, her school believes that Sam’s intellect is inhibiting Lucy’s learning ability and thinks she would be best placed in a foster home.  Awaiting a hearing in the family court, Lucy is taken from Sam and the two emotionally suffer in being apart.  On advice, Sam realises he needs a lawyer to fight for custody and sees a flashy ad in the Yellow Pages for Rita Harrison (Pfeiffer).  Knowing Sam has no money to pay for her services, she rejects his case but after receiving flak from inside her firm, she reconsiders.

Sam and Rita then develop an important relationship.  Thanks to Rita’s expertise, Sam learns how the legal system works and what he has to do to get Lucy back.  Rita’s relationship with her own son has gone sour and thanks to Sam, she understands how neglectful she has been of him and starts rebuilding.  Feelin’ good yet?

I’ve tried hard but I just can’t think of an appropriate metaphor to describe just how emotionally manipulating this garbage is.  It’s sickening to watch, sickening to listen to, and sickening to endure.  The story is laughable and an insult to the people it depicts and the issues it explores.  You will have to excuse me if I wasn’t even slightly moved by the sentiment.  Ordinarily, I would have felt for Sam’s plight but I don’t particularly enjoy having my emotions so obviously milked.

Jessie Nelson’s direction is horrendous.  For some stupid reason, most of the film is shot with moving handheld cameras.  I think I saw steadier camera work in The Blair Witch Project.  Why would she even consider using such a style?  What is the point?  During several scenes, I had to look away in frustration and if you do suffer from motion sickness, take with you two panadene, a bottle of vodka and a firearm to ease the suffering.

The only thing saving this “film” from total retribution are the performances of Sean Penn and Michelle Pfeiffer.  They get no help from their supporting cast but Penn is great in a Rainman-like role and earned an Oscar nom for his work.  Pfeiffer is also good and tries to add spark to the pathetic screenplay but the mountain is just too high.

I believe in freedom and giving people the opportunity to do whatever they want but I plead with you not to see I Am Sam.  If you must (for reasons you will have to explain to me), then be careful not to fall into the traps that lie waiting for you.  I’m starting to think this film was actually written by someone with the mental capacity of a 7-year-old.  Sorry if I have offended writers Kristine Johnson and Jessie Nelson but they asked for it.  I am Matt.   I am right.