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59 of 61 people found the following review helpful
on May 31, 2004
This film is phenomenal. Let me tell you why, in the best way I know how:
**Personal Preface: My brother Christopher has autism. He was diagnosed with autism when he was four, and is now twenty-four. In age, he is my older brother; in mentality I have been his older brother since I was 5.
Growing up with Christopher has taught me many things about life-perspective and how some people see many things differently. I am deeply saddened by the other reviews here slandering the film on the grounds that "it takes much more than love to get a girl through adolescence, and anything else in life."
The Greeks labeled three kinds of love, Eros: passionate or sensual love, Phileao: love shared between close friends and family, and Agape: A transcendent, selfless love that neither wavers nor grows dim. Unfortunately some people have never experienced all three of these types of love, nor do they know how to measure their efficacy.
To my brother Christopher, all he does need is love, and literally as a high functioning person with autism, all he gives is love. It's all he knows. He loves life, cheeseburgers, music, church: simple things.
As a certified assistant psychotherapist for the Lovaas firm of autism research, I also know that love, even as the popular definition as our culture knows it, is the most effective tool in helping both children and those with autism develop as functional human beings.
My mother works with the career resource exchange in Colorado Springs. In her case load has more than 30 different people with mental disabilities that she helps on a bi-weekly basis. Even having an autistic child, she did not recognize Sean Penn until the movie was over. Here's the kicker, Sean Penn is her favorite actor. That is what kind of performance he gives.
To both Roger Ebert, and the individual that quoted him: Ebert, everyone knew you as the bitter weird tub next to Siskel, grow up, and figure out that nobody like your pious pretension and aesthetic retardation. In response to the pessimistic young man who quoted R.E. Mystery Log: befriend someone with downs, or Aspurgers, and figure out how their minds work, how their hearts talk, and then critique movies that you know nothing about.
***Movie Review: Honestly Sean Penn's performance eclipses Dustin Hoffman's in Rain man, both for believability and accuracy. You know how the Academy Awards operate; he was being rewarded for this performance this year. Sean Penn's performance is nothing short of a cinematic miracle of epic proportions. His behaviorisms, tics, antics, voice inflection, deliveries, the list just goes on and on.
Two of the four actors that played his friends actually had the disabilities they were portraying, making authenticity something not to be questioned.
The film raises a series on controversial questions about guardianship and family; the most controversial here being how certain demanding vocations can corrode your life, and your relationship with your family. Michelle Pfeifer does an incredible job portraying the overworked mother, whose stresses at a six figure job causes dilapidations in her home life as well as work relations.
The other amount of controversy can be attributed to the antagonizing of the state's District Attorney. In most cases the state does do its job of properly assessing the abilities of caretakers of those mentally disabled, but there have been many cases where the state was incapable of demonstrating these abilities. By no means does this movie mean to prove that this is unequivocally the lot of the courthouse, but it does illuminate infractions that are not unheard of in the courtroom.
This film has made me cry every time I see it. I have seen it about eight times. I don't cry because I am sad, or because I am over emotional, or because I am happy that small voices are being heard, I cry because I see the characters going through the same struggles I go through in my life, and overcome them with love and things we often forget. This film is in my top 25 incredible movies list. Five stars, highest recommendations.
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120 of 133 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 20, 2002
From the first moment I AM SAM began, I realized I was in for a rare movie treat. As part of a movie class I was fortunate to recently preview I AM SAM and find now, several weeks later that I am still as enthusiastic about this film as I was when I first saw it.
Sean Penn, and I cannot say enough about his performance, plays Sam, a mentally challenged adult with the mental capacity of a 7 year old. We first see him working at Starbucks while he puts out sugar packets in an obsessive manner, calling out orders over and over and endearing himself to customers in his charming Sam manner. Suddenly, Sam is called away and we watch him enter a hospital and witness the birth of his daughter. Elated and awestruck, Sam names the baby girl Lucy, after the Beatle song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Unfortunately Lucy's mother isn't intersted in either Sam or Lucy and as they leave the hospital, with Lucy in Sam's arms, simply runs away from them. Ill prepared and ill equipped to raise a child, Sam somehow managaes to bring up Lucy with the help of a kindly and eccentric neighbor played to perfection by Dianne Weist. As the years go by, we see glimpses of Lucy growing up as she plays with Sam, as they read Green Eggs and Ham together before bedtime, as Sam buys shoes with Lucy aided by his friends who are also mentally challenged and finally when Lucy begins school. And while I know realistically that Sam being capable of raising Lucy mostly on his own till she reaches grade school might be unlikely, Sean Penn as Sam is so loving and good with Lucy, that I truly wanted to believe this could happen.
While it isn't firmly established how Sam and Lucy manage to evade child welfare agencies all of this time, eventually these beauracratic agencies do become aware of Lucy's situation and challenge Sam's ability to care for her. Sam now must fight for Lucy as he never has had to do before. Confused and heartbroken, Sam initially finds a high powered lawyer played by Michelle Pfeiffer. But she wants no part of the case. Beset by a career which takes over her life, Michelle Pfeiffer's character has a sullen young son at home and little to say to her husband. Eventually, though, she does take the case, is almost shamed into it by other lawyers in her firm. But in a remarkable twist of fate and and while helping Sam, she learns a great deal from him about parenting and unconditional love. What happens to Sam and Lucy as they are separated and the case is argued in court are memorable scenes filled with tremendous poignancy and deep emotions. For after all, who is truly fit to be a parent. Is love enough? Who does make a good parent? And most of all, what is in the best interest of Sam's daughter, Lucy
As an addition and complementing the tremendous perfomances of Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer,Dianne Weist and Laura Dern Lucy played by Dakota Fanning, the movie inclues as background music many of the songs of the Beatles. And at various times the screenplay includes relevant lines and quotes which are fitting to the scenes. It was particualrly eerie watching this movie a few days after the death of George Harrison to hear Sam talk about the success of Harrison's song, "Here Comes the Sun," from the Abbey Road album. But what an appropriate comment I thought as the sun shined down on both Lucy and Sam as Sam ran around the soccer field with Lucy in his arms.
I cannot praise this movie enough. While at times one couldn't help but think of the movies Rainman and Kramer vs. Kramer, I AM SAM stands on its own as being a truly wonderful movie. I fully expect that Sean Penn will be nominated for many awards for his magnificent performance. I certainly hope he is acknowledged for this, a performance of a lifetime. If not I am confident that viewers like myself will never forget Sean Penn as Sam or this finely drawn character.
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48 of 59 people found the following review helpful
on December 8, 2001
I was shown the film I am Sam in a class that i just finished down in LA. First off, the soundtrack is a definite must buy, as many recording artists cover beatles songs in a very tasteful manner. The film itself delivers high calibur performances from all of the leads and the supporting cast. I would be very surprised if sean penn doesn't get an acadamy award nomination. Michelle pfieffer was also very good in the film, as was laura dern. This movie went straight for the heart and it was able to balance the serious moments with some light hearted moments. The young actress who played lucy was amazing in the film as well. I recommend this to anyone who wants to see a movie that will make you think. Think about what it means to be a good parent, and about the strength and spirit of love and how it transcends any handicap that we are born with or that we inflict upon ourselves. I can't say enough great things about this movie, so go see it!
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on June 15, 2004
"I am Sam" is replete with a jerky handheld finish, self-conscious art direction, the angst of the specially challenged, lots of opportunities to laugh and cry, terrific acting, and a marvelous Beatles-Plus soundtrack. The love that the entire cast and crew put into the project radiates from the scene and generates enough goodwill to forgive the occasionally languid pacing.
Sean Penn's nomination was absolutely well-deserved, and Dakota Fleming does a great job of Sam's daughter. Some magnificent supporting turns by Laura Dern, Diane Wiest, Stanley DeSantis, and two actually mentally handicapped actors, help carry the somewhat airy/sappy script through some of its less credible moments.
If you're a heartless scrimp by nature and want action in your movies, you may want to skip it, but everyone else should have a decent feel-good time with this stirring drama.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
How you end up feeling about "I Am Sam" is going to come down to which wins out, your heart or your head, because those two parts are not going to agree. In this 2001 film from director Jessie Nelson a mentally retarded man, Sam Dawson (Sean Penn) has to fight for custody of his bright 7-year-old daughter, Lucy Diamond Dawson (Dakota Fanning), with help from a cold-hearted lawyer, Rita Harrison (Michelle Pfeiffer). The state of California, represented by Richard Schiff as Turner, is concerned because Lucy is now smarter than her father and needs smarter parents (this seems a dangerous precedent to me, but you know what California law is like).
This film knows how to manipulate the heartstrings big time, starting when young Lucy asks her daddy why he is different from the other daddies and refuses to read any book that her father cannot read. Then we get to the point where the System, in its infinite wisdom, takes the little girl away from her father. When that happens we do not hear her screams, just the music turned up load, which reminded me of the extreme pathos of that same scene in Chaplin's "The Kid," where not hearing Jackie Coogan scream for his dad did not matter. Meanwhile, there is the whole bit as Sam wears down super lawyer Rita and gets her to remember that family might be as important as work. In the beginning Rita is basically shamed into taking on Sam's case, but in the end she is emotionally involved in the case and the life of her client. All that matters is reuniting father and daughter.
But the brain keeps asking some key questions about what is happening here. First, why did the State wait until this point to question Sam's parenting? The concern here is never about Lucy's safety with her father, but her desire to keep learning now that she is smarter than Sam. Second, if Lucy had been of average intelligence and not a cute little blonde kid if the State would have found her a wonderful foster home with Randy (Laura Dern) and her husband? I am inclined to think probably not. Third, why are the Department of Children and Family Services lawyers portrayed as villains? Every thing Turner says is true and he repeatedly makes it clear that his intention is the welfare of the child. He is talking practical realities and not abstract ideals.
Twice in "I Am Sam" the film echoes the famous child custody film "Kramer vs. Kramer." The first time the moment sneaks up on the audience, as well as most of the characters, and it signals a reversal in Sam's fortunes. In fact, the next time I am reminded of the other film it again signals a reversal in Sam's fortunes, and that was the point at which the head shoved the heart aside and rendered its final verdict on this film. I was not all that impressed with the rabbit coming out of the hat the first time around, and even less so the second time.
As for Penn's performance, I can see why he was nominated for an Academy Award given the propensity to give the Oscar to actors portraying handicapped individuals (Cliff Robertson in "Charly," Hoffman in "Rain Man," Geoffrey Rush in "Shine"). But I have to admit that such mannered performances next strike me as being as finally nuanced as other great acting performance. Still, he is good, and the scenes between him and Fanning sparkle.
Half the film is scored to covers of Beatles songs by Sarah McLachlan, Eddie Vedder and others, which makes for an interesting soundtrack album. Ultimately, I decided to split the difference between the ranks given by the head and the heart on this one because I did enjoy it, even as I complained bitterly about all the problems I saw in "I Am Sam." I embrace my contradictions, even in print and for public consumption. You are lucky; I was about to launch into "Heart Five, Head Three" inspired by "A Chorus Line."
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon April 12, 2008
I Am Sam DVD

I Am Sam stars Sean Penn as a mentally challenged young man seeking custody of his daughter when it is obvious that he is not mentally capable of being a custodial parent. He bases his plea on the Beatles song "All you need is Love".

Caution, a real tear jerker. Recommended for a mature audience.

Gunner April, 2008
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on June 3, 2002
I loved I Am Sam! I think this movie was very well executed and I was extremely touched by Sean Penn's portrayal of a mentally challenged father. I personally, was rooting for him to win the academy award and felt he did a wonderful job maintaining consistency in his performance. However, six year old Dakota Fanning stole the show. Most often it was her enlightening wisdom and compassion that drove me to tears. I loved this movie and felt the resolution pleasing! I saw it three times in theaters and am going to purchase the DVD. You must see this film.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 2, 2002
In I Am Sam, Writer/Director Jessie Nelson presents a thorny problem: Is a mentally challenged parent, no matter how loving, capable of raising a child who will soon surpass their intellectual capacity?

Michelle Pfeiffer plays Rita, Sam's Lawyer, a high-strung speed-demon who is obsessed with her job to the point of alienating her Husband and Son. Pfeiffer does a wonderful job, as does Penn and just about everyone else in the film, but the real revelation here is Dakota Fanning, the talented young Acreess who plays Lucy. She delivers such a touching, warm performance that I think she should definitely be considered for an Academy Award. There are big things in store for this talented little girl.
A word of warning: Bring a tissue or two! (I didn't, and I had to use my sleeve as a tear-mop...)
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on September 15, 2008
This is the most shamelessly cloying movie I have yet seen. A man with the mental capacity of a 7-year-old can't possibly raise a child, period, end of subject. This would be an amazing enough story if only to show how such a man could take care of himself, living more or less independently. But not only is Sam able to take care of himself, working at a minimum wage job and living in a nice apartment, he is also able to raise a child and somehow afford all the expenses. Apparently there is a lot I could learn from Sam!

The child is the best and the worst part of the story. She is so cute, so sweet, so intelligent, so wise, so affectionate, and so loyal that any parents watching her will melt in the fantasy that their own normal kids could be half as good. In one courtroom scene a witness testifies that the girl is so smart not in spite of her father's shortcomings but because of his love and constancy. I suppose something can be said for always eating dinner at House of Pancakes and reading Green Eggs and Ham a hundred times each night.

The courtroom scenes were funny. Any witness expressing a concern for Sam's ability to be a competent, responsible parent was discredited for some secret and devastating failing in her personal life. In other words, if normal parents make mistakes, get confused, and mess up then who's to say that Sam, with the capacity of a 7-year-old, would do any worse? In fact he may do better.

Then there is the awkward scene when Sam's beautiful lawyer Rita (Michelle Pfeiffer) puts a suit and tie on him and for a brief instant seems to feel enough attraction to consider a pro bono tryst. After all, her husband is cheating on her, so why not?

What I enjoyed most about the movie were the Beatles' songs performed by various cover artists. But it's a fantasy to think that to raise a child in Los Angeles "all you need is love." If a 7-year-old attempts to be a single dad it would be more like helter-skelter.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on January 27, 2002
I admit that I went to this movie in order to learn something. A dear friend of mine shares a home with a man like Sean Penn's character, and I wanted to see what people like this are like without having to personally meet one. I'm glad I went, and this is why:
1) I learned that even though a grown man has the mind of a kindergartner, it doesn't mean said person can't learn, can't communicate, doesn't feel, or isn't human.
2) I learned that even if people have higher IQs than that, it doesn't make them smarter or have more class.
3) I already knew, but this film reemphasized, that no single parent, regardless of mental capacity, can raise their child without help; and that...
4) Good friends, quirks and all, are worth their weight in gold.
I would urge anybody to see this movie and learn those same lessons I did tonight at the theater.
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