Love Is All You Need...
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.