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Movie Info




December 28, 2001


132 minutes


Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dakota Fanning, Laura Dern, Dianne Wiest, Brent Spiner, & Mary Steenburgen


Jessie Nelson


David Rubin


Jessie Nelson & Kristine Johnson


New Line Cinema




Teenagers & adults


Please Note

In providing movie reviews on our site, is not endorsing or recommending films we review. Our goal is to provide Christians with information about the latest movies, both the good and the bad, so that our readers may make an informed decision as to whether or not films are appropriate for them and their families.


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 Sam’s 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 pancake restaurant.

As Lucy grows up, it becomes clear that Sam’s 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 doesn’t know a word because she doesn’t want her father to look stupid. Sam, however, tells her that she is not stupid and that she should know that word. Nevertheless, Lucy’s school gets government social workers involved in Sam and Lucy’s case. They take Lucy away from Sam.

Sam meets a rich lawyer named Rita Harrison, played by Michelle Pfeiffer. He’s 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 Sam’s 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 Rita’s mercenary approach to the legal profession, Rita decides to take on Sam’s case pro bono, for free. This begins a series of ups and downs as Sam fights to regain custody of his beautiful, intelligent daughter.

Some people might take exception to the sentimental qualities of I Am Sam. Others might not like the fact that some of the movie’s 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 Sam’s prayer after all, but in an unexpected, redemptive way that not even Sam’s lawyer, Rita, could predict. In the end, an unexpected turn of events resolves Sam and Lucy’s problems and love brings nearly everyone together in the movie’s 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 character’s caustic but vulnerable personality. Dakota Fanning is incredibly charming and adorable as Sam’s daughter Lucy. When another woman, nicely played by Laura Dern, decides she wants to adopt Lucy, it’s fully understandable why. All this is also to the credit of the movie’s 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.
Suite 200
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Phone: (310) 854-5811
Fax: (310) 659-3568

The previous reviews are a selected sample of informative reviews from MOVIEGUIDE: 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 articles, please visit their Web site at, or write or call:

P.O. Box 190010
Atlanta, GA 31119
(800) 899-6684

DISCLAIMER: "The publications that carry MOVIEGUIDE and the organizations that distribute MOVIEGUIDE are not responsible for these reviews, nor is MOVIEGUIDE responsible for the opinions and positions of those publications and organizations."

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