Sean Penn stars in this drama as Sam Dawson, a developmentally disabled adult who has been working at a coffee shop and raising his daughter Lucy (Dakota Fanning) for seven years. Sam receives help in his parenting duties from a circle of trusted confidantes, including his ADD-afflicted best friend Ifty (Doug Hutchison), the paranoid Robert ...
Sean Penn stars in this drama as Sam Dawson, a developmentally disabled adult who has been working at a coffee shop and raising his daughter Lucy (Dakota Fanning) for seven years. Sam receives help in his parenting duties from a circle of trusted confidantes, including his ADD-afflicted best friend Ifty (Doug Hutchison), the paranoid Robert (Stanley DeSantis), an agoraphobic neighbor (Dianne Wiest), and his other disabled pals, Brad and Joe (played by real-life developmentally challenged actors Brad Silverman and Joseph Rosenberg). Although he provides a structured and loving environment for Lucy that includes regular visits to IHOP, video nights, and karaoke, Sam's daughter is beginning to surpass him in mental acuity. When Lucy begins intentionally stunting her own growth so as not to hurt her beloved father, social worker Margaret (Loretta Devine) takes action, removing the girl from her home and placing her in the temporary care of a foster mother, Randy (Laura Dern). As the day of his hearing looms, Sam seeks out the aid of driven, obsessive lawyer Rita Harrison (Michelle Pfeiffer), who takes the case only to prove to her colleagues that she is willing to accept pro bono work. Opposed by county lawyer Turner (Richard Schiff) in court, Rita gradually comes to care for her client and his daughter, even as they force her to consider the limitations of her own abilities as a parent. The soundtrack for I Am Sam (2001) gained considerable critical attention, consisting entirely of Beatles cover songs by such contemporary artists as The Black Crowes, Eddie Vedder, the Wallflowers, and Aimee Mann, among others. Karl Williams, Rovi
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Sean Penn takes off running in his performance as Sam Dawson, father, who has the intellectual ability of a seven year old. I don't believe Penn has ever given a mediocre performance, but in this film he surpasses himself. His characterisation is so 'spot-on' with his often slightly out-of-focus gaze, his stumbling, nasal speech, his often childish abandon, that it is hard to believe he has ever been anything but this retarded man. And to cap it off, he is playing against another formidable actor: Dakota Fanning, who plays Lucy Diamond, his daughter. She sparkles and shines as the intelligent little girl who realises she is outstripping her Daddy brainwise and begins to hold herself back. And here is the plot: the Child Protection people take her away from her beloved father and place her in the home of Randy Carpenter (Laura Dern), causing Lucy to suffer trauma and her father to spin out of control. Enter Rita Harrison Williams (Michelle Pfeiffer) a smart up-town lawyer who is horrified at having been placed in the position of acting for Sam in the approaching court case to decide Lucy's fate, but who later begins to see that Sam's love for his daughter is something more valuable than society's idea of how family life should be.
This film shines with a freshness that is stunning, shocking the viewer into an awareness that 'do-gooders' can inadvertently commit cruelty. You'll want to shake Mr. Turner (Richard Schiff) lawyer for the other side, his quiet probing, suggestively intrusive questions often bringing Sam's brain to the point of chaos. Laura Dern is excellent as the commendable but somewhat confused Mrs. Carpenter (another actor who is a pleasure to watch). But Michelle Pfeiffer holds her own as the 'lovely Rita' as Sam names her, who has her own struggles with a resentful son. However, it is the duel brilliance of both Penn and Fanning which brings the film into the upper echelon of that art, the cinema.
As can be gathered from Lucy Diamond's name, there is a theme running through of the Beatles' music (Annie, the neighbour (Dianne Wiest) often helps Sam to understand things through the lyrics of the songs, such as "All You Need Is Love". One small pity is that the songs were not sung by the Beatles themselves, but maybe that was a Copyright issue. Ttruly an outstanding film.