I Am Sam

I Am Sam


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Certain movies stand up to be hit. This is one of them.

Ever since Rain Man and Forrest Gump, not to mention Russell Crowe's mathematical boffin in A Beautiful Mind, mental disorders have been box office gold. I Am Sam is different. For one thing, Sean Penn as a grown man with the intelligence of a child is so good he becomes annoying. For another, the movie is marinated in sentiment.

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The story is relevant and, in many ways, important, with side effects that create a glutinous sweet stickiness. Every time the plot lurches towards that area where political correctness hits a wall of prejudice, writer/director Jessie Nelson pulls back. You want to feel Sam's pain more than you do. The message speaks loud and proud: LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED. And guess what? Sam's hero is John Lennon.

He has a daughter with a girl who runs away after giving birth. He names her Lucy Diamond, after The Beatles song, and brings her up with occasional help from a reclusive piano teacher (Dianne Weist) and the support of his friends - learning difficulty stereotypes.

When Lucy (Dakota Fanning) is seven, the US equivalent of Social Services take her away because they consider Sam an unfit father. The film is the story of his fight to regain custody, with the professional assistance of a stressed out, workaholic, bad mum attorney (Michelle Pfeiffer).

"I don't want no daddy but you," Lucy says. It's tissues and truth, tears and traumas.

Penn's performance is so complete that he refuses to play to the gallery, or allow charm to soften Sam's single-tracked devotion. Pfeiffer supports him with total conviction and brings to a cliche role an unexpected commitment. Seven-year-old Fanning looks cute, but acts tough. She's terrific.

Buttons are pushed, emotions manipulated. These people - there are others, too, the unsung back-up cast - deserve a sugar-free script that doesn't patronise sympathy. What they get is compromise.

Reviewed on: 08 May 2002
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I Am Sam packshot
Sean Penn is a mentally handicapped father, who fights for the right to keep his daughter.
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Director: Jessie Nelson

Writer: Kristine Johnson, Jessie Nelson

Starring: Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dianne Wiest, Dakota Fanning, Richard Schiff, Loretta Devine, Doug Hutchison, Laura Dern

Year: 2002

Runtime: 132 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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