I Am Sam

I Am Sam

4.7 23
Director: Jessie Nelson

Cast: Jessie Nelson, Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dakota Fanning


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Sean Penn stars in this drama as Sam Dawson, a developmentally disabled adult who has been working at a coffee shop and raising his daughter Lucy (Dakota Fanning) for seven years. Sam receives help in his parenting duties from a circle of trusted confidantes, including his ADD-afflicted best friend Ifty (Doug Hutchison), the paranoid Robert (Stanley DeSantis), an… See more details below


Sean Penn stars in this drama as Sam Dawson, a developmentally disabled adult who has been working at a coffee shop and raising his daughter Lucy (Dakota Fanning) for seven years. Sam receives help in his parenting duties from a circle of trusted confidantes, including his ADD-afflicted best friend Ifty (Doug Hutchison), the paranoid Robert (Stanley DeSantis), an agoraphobic neighbor (Dianne Wiest), and his other disabled pals, Brad and Joe (played by real-life developmentally challenged actors Brad Silverman and Joseph Rosenberg). Although he provides a structured and loving environment for Lucy that includes regular visits to IHOP, video nights, and karaoke, Sam's daughter is beginning to surpass him in mental acuity. When Lucy begins intentionally stunting her own growth so as not to hurt her beloved father, social worker Margaret (Loretta Devine) takes action, removing the girl from her home and placing her in the temporary care of a foster mother, Randy (Laura Dern). As the day of his hearing looms, Sam seeks out the aid of driven, obsessive lawyer Rita Harrison (Michelle Pfeiffer), who takes the case only to prove to her colleagues that she is willing to accept pro bono work. Opposed by county lawyer Turner (Richard Schiff) in court, Rita gradually comes to care for her client and his daughter, even as they force her to consider the limitations of her own abilities as a parent. The soundtrack for I Am Sam (2001) gained considerable critical attention, consisting entirely of Beatles cover songs by such contemporary artists as The Black Crowes, Eddie Vedder, the Wallflowers, and Aimee Mann, among others.

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Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Ed Hulse
Chalk up another virtuoso performance for Sean Penn, whose remarkable portrayal of a developmentally challenged father waging a custody fight makes this potentially mawkish drama a must-see movie. His Sam Dawson is a good-natured, Beatles-obsessed Starbucks clerk with the mental capacity of a seven-year-old. When it becomes apparent that his young daughter, Lucy (played by adorable newcomer Dakota Fanning), is deliberately stunting her intellectual development so he can keep up with her, social workers take the girl away from him. Michelle Pfeiffer, whose own first-rate performance is regrettably overshadowed by Penn’s, plays a hard-charging lawyer shamed into representing Sam on a pro bono basis when he elects to challenge the system. Director Jessie Nelson (Corrina, Corrina), who also coauthored the screenplay, labors mightily to keep the Establishment types from seeming like black-hearted villains, and he allots ample footage to Pfeiffer’s character, who has an epiphany while defending the loving father and realizes that, for all his shortcomings, he possesses qualities she lacks as a parent. Nelson also keeps Sam’s numerous misadventures from becoming buffoonish or diminishing the severity of his dilemma. Penn plays this role with all the intensity and commitment his fans have come to expect, and thanks largely to him, I Am Sam is a touching, unforgettable film. Nelson supplies a feature-length commentary for the DVD, which also includes an original documentary, Becoming Sam, deleted scenes, alternate takes, and a theatrical trailer.
All Movie Guide - Karl Williams
For a film that's waterlogged in bathos, it features a brilliant performance from the ever-versatile and surprising Sean Penn, who is a shocker not just for the technical achievement of his role but for the warmth he injects into it. Maybe it's real-life fatherhood, but the actor exhibits a depth of soul previously absent from his already stellar work, putting him into a league where he could conceivably play just about anyone. On the whole, however, the project comes up short, gorging itself on sentiment, its calculatedly twee preciousness finally overwhelming one's desire to like it. There is a dissonance here between the great acting of Penn, Dianne Wiest, and young Dakota Fanning, who display Oscar-caliber talents, and the style and tone of director Jessie Nelson, whose craft employs all of the nuance and grace of a Lifetime Original Movie. That's not to say that the film lacks emotional impact, but the obviousness and desperation of the filmmakers' manipulation provoke tears that are not cathartic, but bitter and resentful. Serious questions are asked, but never really answered, and the weary civil servants who ask them in an effort to do their important jobs are treated as heavies. Michelle Pfeiffer is handed a one-note role, her problematic husband is never even glimpsed, robbing her of the sort of conflict necessary to reveal more about her character. The director's predilection for handheld camera work, presumably to impart upon the viewer a sense of the protagonist's confused disorientation, only serves to leave the film's cross-eyed audience reaching for the Dramamine when combined with the director's taste for numerous close-ups. And audiences will likely be split on the use of developmentally disabled characters to serve as a literal comic relief peanut gallery. The production team has attempted to dodge any criticism of this hackneyed ploy by utilizing real-life developmentally challenged actors in some of these supporting roles, but it doesn't mean that the way they're presented by the script is any less exploitative. The subtlety born of good taste would have gone a long way toward making I Am Sam a more worthy, meaningful, and memorable effort.
New York Post

It works magic because of Penn, who disappears into the character so thoroughly that even Dustin Hoffman ... would be jealous. Lou Lumenick
New York Observer - Rex Reed
Another spectacular workout by the versatile and indefatigable Sean Penn saves the sudsy I Am Sam from the rinse cycle.

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Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
New Line Home Video

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Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Sean Penn Sam Dawson
Michelle Pfeiffer Rita Harrison
Dakota Fanning Lucy
Dianne Wiest Annie
Loretta Devine Margaret Calgrove
Richard Schiff Turner
Laura Dern Randy Carpenter
Brad Silverman Brad
Joseph Rosenberg Joe
Stanley de Santis Robert
Doug Hutchison Ifty
Mary Steenburgen Actor
Caroline Keenan Actor
Chase Mackenzie Bebak Actor
Mason Lucero Actor
Scott Paulin Actor

Technical Credits
Jessie Nelson Director,Producer,Screenwriter
Mary Gail Artz Casting
Douglas Axtell Sound/Sound Designer
Lisa Campbell Associate Producer,Asst. Director
Richard Chew Editor
Erin Cochran Art Director
Barbara Cohen Casting
Elliot Davis Cinematographer
Michael De Luca Executive Producer
Susie de Santo Costumes/Costume Designer
Jennifer Gentile Set Decoration/Design
Stephanie J. Gordon Set Decoration/Design
Barbara Hall Co-producer
Marshall Herskovitz Producer
Kristine Johnson Screenwriter
Aaron Osborne Production Designer
Claire Rudnick Polstein Executive Producer
John Powell Score Composer
Glenn Rivers Set Decoration/Design
David Scott Rubin Executive Producer
Richard Solomon Producer
Edward Zwick Producer

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