Prayer Focus
Movie Review

I Am Sam

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language

Reviewed by: Douglas Downs
STAFF WRITER

Better than Average
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teen, Adult
Genre:
Drama
Length:
2 hr. 12 min.
Year of Release:
2002
Sean Penn and Dakota Fanning in “I Am Sam” Michelle Pfeiffer and Sean Penn in “I Am Sam”

Starring: Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dianne Wiest, Dakota Fanning, Laura Dern | Directed by: Jessie Nelson | Produced by: Jessie Nelson, Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz, Richard Solomon, Ed Zwick, Rick Solomon | Written by: Jessie Nelson, Kristine Johnson, Brenda Wachel | Distributor: New Line Cinema

I do like Sam
oh, yes I do.
I really liked “I am Sam”
and you will too.
Its message speaks
to moms and dads.
When the story peaks
it will make you sad.
You could try a matinee.
You could see it yet today.
You should try it
if you can.
I think you’ll like
“I am Sam”.

We have all read the legendary book by Dr. Suess entitled Green Eggs and Ham. The story starts out with the line “I am Sam” and continues with Sam’s quest to get his leery friend to try an unusual looking breakfast.

The movie, “I am Sam,” is a journey to convince a reluctant society to trust someone who is mentally challenged with the responsibility of parenthood. I know that most parents struggle to make wise decisions for the welfare of their child. The message of “I am Sam” is more than your typical get-out-the-handkerchief movie. It carefully re-examines the relational themes of love, patience, and devotion. This analytical process may be difficult for those that would like to be identified with our handicapped caregiver, but find the self-absorbed lawyer closer to the truth.

Our story begins with Sam (Sean Penn) as a Starbucks coffee clerk and the mental capacity of a 7-year old. He dashes off from his job to arrive at the hospital just in time to see his daughter being born. Her birth is the result of a one-night stand with a “homeless” woman. The details are thin, but that is not the point of this plot. Sam is asked to name his child and he makes his first of several Beatle dedications by calling her Lucy. A mom who has different plans abandons our innocent father and daughter. Sam’s friends all pitch in to help him raise Lucy (Dakota Fanning) with strong doses of love and support. Dianne West plays a kindly neighbor and helps Sam organize Lucy’s schedule according to TV programs. Lucy grows up and quickly realizes that her dad is different. She enjoys the fact that he takes the time to play at the park, but she struggles over giving explanations to her peers. Sam’s mental problems come to the attention of the state when the school believes that Lucy has stopped learning. Their hypothesis is that she is afraid to surpass her father’s intellectual abilities. Children’s Services steps in and places Lucy in a foster home. They quickly become Sam’s Goliath to overcome. Sam must now find a lawyer and try to win Lucy back.

Rita Harrison (Michelle Pfeiffer) is our pushy lawyer who backs herself into a corner and takes the case “pro bono.” While she is trying to win Sam’s case, on a personal level she is losing her own family. Yes, some of this feel-good story is contrived, but the acting is so well done that you will forgive most of the plot weaknesses.

I have two primary objections to the film: firstly—the extremely strong dose of religious exclamations (the Lord’s name is taken in vain several times); and secondly—there is a shameless abundance of “product recognition” in this film. Many name brands are shoved in the viewers face as if this were an infomercial. It is a decent flic and if it’s message helps adults re-evaluate their priorities as a parent, then it will be worth the trip.

The “PG-13” rating should be observed. I was very uncomfortable with the amount of G-d’s (about 14 instances). But many may be even more awkward with the simple pleasures our children long for—our TIME.

Viewer Comments
“I AM SAM” is quite a stirring film that undoubtedly challenges our emotions, intellect, and sense of justice. I will say that I was overtly offended with the consistent use of the Lord’s name in vain by the notorious attorney. Yet, the theme is excellent as is the plot. It is difficult to hold back tears as a mentally challenged man’s daughter is taken from him by the State because of his incompetencies. Appearing realistic, this film is well acted, although the ending is weak and unexpected. Furthermore, I have one other objection that is seldom heard. While Sean Penn is evidently not mentally disabled, his friends in actuality are. I have ample reservations at poking fun at these individuals. When they tried to defend him at court, it became a scene of humor for many. Mr. Penn’s role was also intentionally laughable throughout the film and I feel such actions ridicule those who are mentally disabled and furthermore desensitize a society that is already ignorant of the needs of the mentally and physically challenged.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 4]
—Matthew Pasalic, age 29
Positive—I thought that this was a great movie. The age old message that we all have heard a million times that you shouldn’t judge others is very good. The over use of the Lord’s name was a bit much, but I was able to get through it without any problem. The only thing that I really found to be troubling about the film was its reality. Throughout the film the people that say they are helping the child are really only taking advantage of Sam and hurting the child. Which goes to show that sometimes when people do things which they think are noble, they are doing more harm than good. In the movie she asks, “Why did God make you the way you are?” (or something to that effect) He may have been mentally handicapped in the movie, but he loved more than most “normal” people I have ever met throughout my life. Good movie.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 4½]
—Garret, age 21
Positive—A very touching movie. While I agree with criticisms others have made. (The camera work was shaky, but you got used to it. And Michelle Pfeiffer’s use of profanity could have been done without.) I was moved by Sean Penn’s performance as Sam, which I would say was of equal caliber as Dustin Hoffman’s role in Rainman. Overall, a real tear jerker. Go see it.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 4]
—Bob, age 29
Positive—This was a wonderful film! It may not have been realistic in all areas, but if you are a normal person looking for an uplifting tale, this is it! In response to the person who didn’t like the camera work—I must say it is true that it is shaky, but you adjust easily (I went with a large group of people, and no one even brought the camera into the long afterward conversation) Go to this movie, you won’t regret it!
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 4½]
—Jack, age 19
Positive—I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It is the kind of movie that gives you a big ol’ lump in your throat and makes you a bit teary. Superb acting all the way around! Michelle Pfeiffer’s character was the one who used a few profanities and God’s name in vain. But I still say go see this movie. I saw it with my husband, and even he got teary. And he never gets teary.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 4]
—Rena, age 36
Negative—Great idea, good characters, amazing acting… but we could not sit through it for the jerky camera work. It took a few hours to get over the motion sickness after we left. For example: in a courtroom scene rather than “cut” back and forth, the camera actually blurringly swirls around from lawyer to witness, and back again. People were groaning with disgust in the audience, as if the movie were a “hurl” ride at the amusement park. This sort of jerky direction and wobbly cinematography ruined what might have been an otherwise good movie. We could not sit through to the end, and our stomachs tell us that we waited too long to leave. On a smaller screen (as in video) perhaps it would not be that bad, and we will someday get to see the ending. If you must go to see this on the big-screen, take some dramamine first.
My Ratings: [Good / 1]
—Dean and Laura VanDruff, ages 41 and 31
Positive—I would like to respond to the view’s comments that the movie is very shaky and gives motion sickness. I didn’t experience this at all! I sat in the middle of the theater and the camera’s jerkiness was wonderfully effective to convey Sam’s confusion. Maybe this previous viewer sat in the front row, in which case I could see the motion might be a problem, but that goes with ANY movie! I also enjoyed the acting in this film. The plot at some points could use some work, but the actors are great including the guy who played Percy in the Green Mile—He was very funny. Michelle Phifer was the only one with bad language, but it helped her character development: she starts from a point where her life is in chaos and she needs love very badly, which makes the transformation more apparent at the end. Good movie… go see it!
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 3½]
—Chelsea, ages 19
Positive—I don’t go to the movies much these days because of the lack of morality; for the most part, it is a waste of time and money. I AM SAM is a different story. Yes, it had some bad language which was totally unnecessary, but I am very glad I saw it with my two daughters, (ages 11 and 15-we discussed the entire movie, including the inappropriate language). I not only felt comfortable taking them, but felt it was a learning experience for all of us… it hits on all emotions, had excellent acting and kept our interest until the end. It was nice to sit in a PG-13 rated movie and not feel uncomfortable or the need to get up and leave! I love a good, decent movie the whole family can enjoy and learn from.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 5]
—Alisa, age 41
Positive—I know this movie hasn’t been getting the best reviews from secular critics, but I loved it! Sean Penn was awesome, he’s a great actor. And the little girl who played Lucy was so cute! The entire movie was really touching. I went with my mom and sister, and I’m so glad that I did. My mom cried constantly through the whole thing, and I even noticed men around us who couldn’t seem to stop crying! Anyone with a soft heart should definitely go see “I Am Sam,” and bring plenty of tissues. There is some swearing, but not a whole lot… and that’s about the only negative thing that I noticed.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 3]
—Beth, age 18
Movie Critics
…Strong moral worldview with a couple important, positive comments about God, including an answered prayer, plus some redemptive and Romantic elements… a fabulous premise for what is one of the most entertaining pictures of the year 2001…
—Dr. Tom Snyder, Movieguide
…helps us understand that the essence of our humanity is nurtured within communities of love. When we come together not in accusatory legal maneuvers but in mutual loving interdependence, then even the most fragile among us are safe and nurtured to full and productive lives…
—Cinema in Focus
…acting is top-notch… Penn is completely believable… God’s name used in vain seven times…
—Preview Family Movie and TV Review
…1 F-word, 1 obscene hand gesture, 3 scatological terms, 7 mild obscenities, 6 religious profanities, 7 religious exclamations…
—Kids-in-Mind
…little or nothing in the way of major objectionable content…
—ScreenIt!
Comments from young people
Positive—I am Sam had the whole theater sniffling and crying constantly. It is a truly touching story that I would definitely go see again! It was excellent and very worth my time and money. The only negative thing I noticed was the language… But I would suggest I am Sam to teens and adults everywhere.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 4]
—Kaley, age 15
Positive—I’m afraid that people are missing the point of the camera work. I think the camera work captured the feelings of Sam and Lucy’s feelings of a life out of control. I think it fit in the story well. Overall I think it was a very good movie. Well worth your time and money, and I would go see it again.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 5]
—Anne M., age 14
Neutral—This movie was good. My dad cried, and so did most of the theater. Some funny scenes, some cursing, some nice scenes. The daughter and Sam have a nice relationship. It has a happy ending, but you don’t exactly know what happened. I didn’t like it a WHOLE lot because there wasn’t enough story. Anyone could see this movie, except younger children who might not understand what is wrong with Sam because he is mentally challenged.
My Ratings: [Good / 4]
—Blake Wolf, age 14