December 28, 2001
Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer,
Dakota Fanning, Laura Dern, Dianne Wiest, Brent Spiner, &
Jessie Nelson & Kristine Johnson
New Line Cinema
Teenagers & adults
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I Am Sam
By Movieguide Magazine
- I Am Sam is wonderfully comical. It is also heartbreakingly
sad and touching. Best of all, however, it is ultimately inspiring and hopeful.
Sean Penn stars in the movie as Sam Dawson, a mentally handicapped man who
gets a homeless girl pregnant. The movie opens with Sam rushing from work
at Starbucks to the hospital where the young woman gives birth. The woman
runs away, however, just as they are carrying the baby out of the hospital.
With help from a reclusive piano teacher who lives in a nearby apartment,
Sam takes care of the baby, whom he names Lucy Diamond Dawson, after the famous
Beatles song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." The Beatles, it seems,
are often on Sams mind. Their songs provide a reference point for his
life. Another touchpoint are the regular video nights that Sam and his mentally
handicapped male friends hold, and their regular visits to the local IHOP
As Lucy grows up, it becomes clear that Sams mental deficiencies are
holding her back, especially when Lucy starts going to school. In one scene,
as Lucy reads a book with her father, Lucy pretends that she doesnt
know a word because she doesnt want her father to look stupid. Sam,
however, tells her that she is not stupid and that she should know that word.
Nevertheless, Lucys school gets government social workers involved in
Sam and Lucys case. They take Lucy away from Sam.
Sam meets a rich lawyer named Rita Harrison, played by Michelle Pfeiffer.
Hes inspired to hire her by the Beatles song about "lovely Rita,
meter maid" and because her last name is Harrison, like the Beatle guitarist
George Harrison, but Rita the lawyer wants nothing to do with Sams case.
Rita is a troubled, impatient woman wrapped up in the money she earns from
her work. Unlike Sam, Rita has strained relations with her own child, a young
boy. Also, her husband apparently is cheating on her. When the other lawyers
at work snicker at Ritas mercenary approach to the legal profession,
Rita decides to take on Sams case pro bono, for free. This begins a
series of ups and downs as Sam fights to regain custody of his beautiful,
Some people might take exception to the sentimental qualities of I Am
Sam. Others might not like the fact that some of the movies comedy
depends on the silly things that sometimes come out of Sam and his mentally
handicapped friends mouths, but the humor in I Am Sam is lighthearted.
It takes delight in the characters of these men rather than makes jokes at
the expense of their infirmities. It also is very funny.
As for the emotional sentiments expressed in the movie, they are based on
a moral worldview that is inspiring rather than syrupy. In fact, at one point,
Sam prays to God for help. Although the help that God provides at that moment
in the story does not last, and Sam and Lucy must go through further trials
and tribulations, the movie ends on an incredibly uplifting note. Thus, God
does eventually completely answer Sams prayer after all, but in an unexpected,
redemptive way that not even Sams lawyer, Rita, could predict. In the
end, an unexpected turn of events resolves Sam and Lucys problems and
love brings nearly everyone together in the movies final wonderful scene.
Sean Penn does a tremendous job as Sam. He combines the autistic traits Dustin
Hoffman displayed in Rainman with the simple compassion that Chris
Burke brought to his role as "Corky," a Downs Syndrome teenager
on the 1989-1993 family TV series Life Goes On. Michelle Pfeiffer does
her usual bang-up job as Rita. She brings life to her characters caustic
but vulnerable personality. Dakota Fanning is incredibly charming and adorable
as Sams daughter Lucy. When another woman, nicely played by Laura Dern,
decides she wants to adopt Lucy, its fully understandable why. All this
is also to the credit of the movies obviously talented director and
co-writer, Jessie Nelson.
Although there are a number of strong profanities and other foul language
in I Am Sam, most of the naughty language comes from Rita, the caustic
lawyer who undergoes her own redemption because of her experiences with Sam
and Lucy. Thus, the foul language she uses is a way for the movie to show
how this woman needs to make some positive changes in her own life. Sam helps
Rita figure out the value that a good family life can have for both a parent
and a child.
As noted above, the final message of this powerful, poignant movie is that
love brings people together, including, sometimes, apparent enemies. This
is a fabulous premise for what is one of the most entertaining pictures of
the year 2001. Please address your comments to:
Robert Shaye & Michael Lynne
New Line Cinema
116 North Robertson Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Phone: (310) 854-5811
Fax: (310) 659-3568
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A FAMILY GUIDE TO MOVIES AND ENTERTAINMENT, a syndicated feature of Good News
Communications, Inc. To subscribe to MOVIEGUIDE, which includes a complete
set of at least 10 reviews of the latest movies as well as many informative
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or write or call:
P.O. Box 190010
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