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The Portrayal of the System and Foster Care
This movie shows how easy it is to build a positive or negative case against anyone using the same information. It's all in the interpretation of the evidence.
I Am Sam is a must see for all involved with the foster care system. While watching this film the viewer will notice the growth of a foster mom, played by Laura Dern, as she comes to understand the bond between Sam and Lucy. The foster mom sees that it doesn't matter to Lucy that her dad doesn't understand simple concepts, or that her foster family can do more for her. The bond between Sam and Lucy is stronger than his disability. The network of people that rally around Lucy and Sam will bring tears of joy and hope for this family as they fight to stay together.
Sean Penn does a fantastic job playing a mentally challenged individual. You actually lose yourself in his role and forget that this is a man with normal intelligence pretending to have a disability. If you don't want to watch for the excellent story line than watch for Sean Penn's performance.
Michelle Pfeiffer demonstrates a wide range of emotions as her character struggles to work with Sam's disabilities. Her portrayal of the lawyer is not only believable but matches the talent and strength of Penn's performance. Pfeiffer was not over shadowed in this line-up.
Dakota Fanning is a beautiful little girl with a bigger than life acting ability. She shines in this movie, winning and breaking hearts all at the same time. She is a new favorite of mine and her role in I Am Sam started my interest in her career.
To Sum it Up
I Am Sam forces the viewer to think about family and the importance of family bonds. The importance of children remaining with their birth parents, and how people can work together as support systems for families with unique challenges when they put the needs of the child first.
Again, I think that this movie is a must see especially for new foster families as an example of teamwork with birth families.
I Am Sam came out in 2001 and was co-written and directed by Jessie Nelson. It is rated PG-13 for language and runs 132 minutes.+
2002 Academy Awards: Best Actor in a leading role nominee - Sean Penn
2002 Screen Actors Guild Awards: Outstanding performance by a female actor in a supporting role nominee - Dakota Fanning
2002 Screen Actors Guild Awards: Outstanding performance by a male actor in a leading role nominee - Sean Penn
Sam Dawson (Sean Penn) works at the local Starbucks, not as a coffee server, nor as a cash register clerk, but as a dining room janitor. You see, Sam is an adult with the mind of a 7-year-old who has just experienced the birth of his daughter as the product of a one-night stand with a homeless woman. The baby's mother exclaims, "I only wanted a place to sleep" as she disappears, leaving Sam to raise the child himself. Does a mentally disabled individual, without the mental capacity to even run a cash register, have the right, much less the capability to raise a child? Should we as a society, allow mentally disabled individuals to raise children? I Am Sam makes a compelling argument that love is the most important ingredient in raising a child, and as we learn from Sam, mentally challenged individuals are definitely capable of giving love.
Penn's performance as Sam must be mentioned alongside that of Dustin Hoffman as Rain Man's Raymond Babbitt. It is that good! Many contend that it is easy for an actor to perform in the role of a mentally challenged individual, as the actor must only perform his craft in a one-dimensional range of human emotions. My contention is that an actor's true abilities shine when he/she is asked to perform outside of the range of common, everyday human interaction.
Although Sam has his peculiarities and autistic routines that should not be disrupted - Wednesday is video night, Thursday is dinner at IHOP, Friday is karaoke night - he manages to spend much time with his daughter, Lucy (Dakota Fanning). He named her after The Beatles' Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and he is very successful at providing for her emotional needs. As she turns eight-years-old and begins to surpass the intellectual capacity of her father, government authorities want to take her away.
Remember the name Dakota Fanning. She delivers a mesmerizing performance that is guaranteed to garner her many leading roles to come. She has that magical spark in her eye and her working chemistry with Penn allows their performances to rise above the screen. Their cohesiveness reminds me of that between Sam Rockwell and Mischa Barton in Lawn Dogs.
To fight the social service workers who want to place Lucy in a foster home, Sam must retain the services of an attorney. Enter Rita Harrison (Michelle Pfeiffer), a high-powered, selfish attorney who takes on his case on a pro-bono basis just to show her fellow litigators that she does indeed have a heart. Pfeiffer excels in her role almost as if drawing from real-life experience to deliver her performance. We also see Laura Dern deliver a short but sharp presentation as the foster mother who attempts to adopt Lucy.
I Am Sam is a brilliant look at a heartbreaking subject that demands the viewer to examine both sides of the controversy. The story is sprinkled with interesting, and unique characters, and a wonderful soundtrack featuring many of today's popular artists giving their rendition of Beatles' tunes. The whole story is threaded with Beatles references that connect the characters to the story and provides a layer of familiarity for the viewer.
Because of its full range of human emotions explored, I give I Am Sam the highest rating in the Julia Roberts factor. Not much there to give it a significant macho factor though save for Michelle Pfeiffer. Safe for the kids and safe for the in-laws.
What defines a parent? Is it the amount of intellectual maturity displayed or the level of love given? Such is the question posed in I Am Sam.
In the film, Sam Dawson (Sean Penn) is a mentally challenged single father raising his daughter Lucy (Dakota Fanning). Sam is a sweet, good-natured man who earns a living by sweeping up at a local coffee store. His mental capacity is that of a seven-year-old, and as his daughter turns seven, she begins to intellectually outgrow her father. Soon, their lives come under the scrutiny of a social worker, who, “for the good of the child,” wants Lucy placed into foster care.
Faced with a nearly impossible-to-win case, Sam decides to fight the legal system by finding a good attorney. Sam has learned from television that all the best attorneys have four names, so with the help of his equally mentally disabled friends, they use a phone book to find a long-named, high-powered lawyer (Michelle Pfeiffer) who ends up taking Sam’s case at no charge on a dare. Together, they struggle to convince the system that Sam deserves to get his daughter back.
Writer/director Jessie Nelson, whose previous writing credits include The Story of Us and Stepmom, opts to flex some creative muscle with her first directing credit by shooting almost the entire film using hand-held cameras. This technique can work to give the viewer a more subjective sense of participation with the film. However, when overdone, it becomes distracting. For the most part, Nelson is able to keep this style in check, but there occasionally the jerky NYPD Blue style zooms made me more dizzy than engrossed.
In the film, Sam names his daughter Lucy Diamond after the Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” and he possesses an almost Rain Man-like knowledge of Beatles trivia. Naturally, the Beatles play a prominent role in the soundtrack, but because of rights issues, the music is comprised of contemporary artists doing their own renditions of Beatles classics. The resulting soundtrack -- performed by artists such as Sheryl Crow, Ben Harper, and Sarah MacLachlan -- is definitely worth picking up if you're a fan of the Fab Four.
There are many great acting performances in this film, but the shining star is without a doubt Sean Penn. In order to ensure he was true to the character, Penn spent time with the Los Angeles-based L.A. Goal, a non-profit organization that helps adults with developmental disabilities. The result is an astounding performance that clearly shows Penn’s dedication to the art of acting. His work is honest, insightful, and compassionate, and it may very well be the film that finally gets Penn that shining gold statuette he rightly deserves.
Plenty of extras on the DVD for I Am Sam, and if you can stomach Penn's hamminess in the movie, you might enjoy the extra scenes of Sam, say, counting down the floors of a descending elevator or dancing or telling knock-knock jokes. As well, a feature commentary is unable to excuse the nauseating "verite" style filmmaking that saddles the film.
See Sam hug.