IMDb > I Am Sam (2001)
I Am Sam
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I Am Sam (2001) More at IMDbPro »

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I Am Sam -- Sam Dawson has the mental capacity of a 7-year-old and works at a Starbucks. He has a daughter with a homeless woman; she abandons them as soon as they leave the hospital.
I Am Sam -- A mentally retarded man fights for custody of his 7-year-old daughter, and in the process teaches his cold-hearted lawyer the value of love and family.


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7.6/10   112,287 votes »
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Down 15% in popularity this week. See why on IMDbPro.
Writers (WGA):
Kristine Johnson (written by) &
Jessie Nelson (written by)
View company contact information for I Am Sam on IMDbPro.
Release Date:
25 January 2002 (USA) See more »
love is all you need
A mentally handicapped man fights for custody of his 7-year-old daughter, and in the process teaches his cold hearted lawyer the value of love and family. Full summary » | Full synopsis »
Plot Keywords:
Nominated for Oscar. Another 9 wins & 9 nominations See more »
User Reviews:


  (in credits order) (complete, awaiting verification)

Sean Penn ... Sam Dawson

Michelle Pfeiffer ... Rita Harrison Williams

Dakota Fanning ... Lucy Diamond Dawson

Dianne Wiest ... Annie Cassell

Loretta Devine ... Margaret Calgrove

Richard Schiff ... Mr. Turner

Laura Dern ... Randy Carpenter
Brad Silverman ... Brad (as Brad Allan Silverman)
Joseph Rosenberg ... Joe

Stanley DeSantis ... Robert

Doug Hutchison ... Ifty

Rosalind Chao ... Lily

Ken Jenkins ... Judge Philip McNeily

Wendy Phillips ... Miss Wright
Mason Lucero ... Conner Rhodes

Scott Paulin ... Duncan Rhodes

Bobby Cooper ... George
Kit McDonough ... Ms. Davis

Kimberly Scott ... Gertie

Michael B. Silver ... Dr. Jaslow

Caroline Keenan ... Rebecca

Eileen Ryan ... Estelle Dawson

Mary Steenburgen ... Dr. Blake

Marin Hinkle ... Patricia
Chase MacKenzie Bebak ... Willy Harrison
Rafer Weigel ... Bruce
Emiko Parise ... Nurse

Pamela Dunlap ... Grace

Brent Spiner ... Shoe Salesman

David Nathan Schwartz ... Principal

Kathleen Robertson ... Big Boy Waitress

Karen Bankhead ... Rita's Colleague
Janet Adderley ... Obnoxious Mom

Katie McGloin ... Cristina

Steven Maines ... Collin
Dennis Fanning ... Vice Cop
David Poynter ... Cafeteria Worker

R.D. Call ... Cop at Park

John Paizis ... Starbucks Father

Russ Fega ... Starbucks Angry Man
Erinn Seaghda Rice Goletz ... Starbucks Barista

Julie Claire ... Starbucks Customer
Marnie Martin ... Starbucks Woman

Tony Abatemarco ... Court Clerk

Will Wallace ... Bill Carpenter
Scott Weintraub ... Scarecrow

Nicholas Mele ... Booking Cop
Brian Bialick ... Brian

Molly Gordon ... Callie
Nora Kroopf ... Sara
Allison Thormahlen ... Lucy Infant
Jillian Thormahlen ... Lucy Infant
Ryan Williams ... Lucy 6 Months
Felicity Ann Forbes ... Lucy 18 Months
Makindra Sherry Forbes ... Lucy 18 Months

Elle Fanning ... Lucy 2 Years
Amanda Lehaf ... Lucy 4 Years
rest of cast listed alphabetically:

Roma Maffia ... First Family Court Judge (uncredited)

Michael McElroy ... (voice) (uncredited)

Clara Soyoung ... Girl in Elevator (uncredited)

Directed by
Jessie Nelson 
Writing credits
Kristine Johnson (written by) &
Jessie Nelson (written by)

Produced by
Lisa Campbell .... associate producer
Michael De Luca .... executive producer
Barbara A. Hall .... co-producer
Marshall Herskovitz .... producer
Jessie Nelson .... producer
Claire Rudnick Polstein .... executive producer
David Rubin .... executive producer
Richard Solomon .... producer
Edward Zwick .... producer
Original Music by
John Powell 
Cinematography by
Elliot Davis 
Film Editing by
Richard Chew 
Casting by
Mary Gail Artz 
Barbara Cohen 
Production Design by
Aaron Osborne 
Art Direction by
Erin Cochran 
Set Decoration by
Jennifer M. Gentile 
Garrett Lewis 
Costume Design by
Susie DeSanto 
Makeup Department
Erin Braus-Guth .... assistant makeup artist (as Erin M. Braus)
Alan D'Angerio .... hair stylist: Ms. Pfeiffer (as Alan Dangerio)
Denise Fischer .... key makeup artist
Elisabeth Fry .... makeup department head
Annette Lorant .... makeup artist
Bunny Parker .... hair department head
Ronnie Specter .... makeup artist: Ms. Pfeiffer (as Ronnie Spector)
Lynda Kyle Walker .... hair assistant
Production Management
Barbara A. Hall .... unit production manager
Frank Salvino .... post-production supervisor
Second Unit Director or Assistant Director
Lisa Campbell .... first assistant director
Frederic Roth .... second assistant director (as Fredric Roth)
Andrew Ward .... second second assistant director
Art Department
Ruben Abarca .... drapery foreman
George Amaroso .... swing
Mychael Bates .... property master
Robert Bernard .... graphic designer
Conrad Chitwood .... construction coordinator (as Harry Conrad Chitwood)
Lilly Frank .... on-set stand-by painter
Stephanie J. Gordon .... set designer
Peter N. Griffith .... props
Robert Hale .... head paint foreman
Hyunjin Jo .... art department assistant (as Hyunjin)
Hyunjin Jo .... origami artist
Sean Langdon .... set dressing gangboss
Brynn McQuade .... art department coordinator
Richard 'Rocky' Nichols .... assistant property master
Michael O'Donnell .... crew head
John 'Johnny O' Ornelas .... assistant property master
Gregori Renta .... lead man
Steve Rice .... greens foreman
Glenn Rivers .... set designer
Chad Vachter .... props
Greg Wyszynski .... on-set dresser/swing
Michael Caccamise .... art department assistant (uncredited)
George Davis .... art department coordinator (uncredited)
Chela Fiorini .... on-set dresser (uncredited)
Sound Department
Rick Ash .... sound re-recording mixer
Douglas Axtell .... production sound mixer
James Bailey .... foley artist
Michael Camello .... sound assistant
Paul Timothy Carden .... supervising sound editor
Eric Flickinger .... sound recordist
Kevin Globerman .... ProTools engineer
Scott Jacobs .... boom operator
Adam Jenkins .... sound re-recording mixer
Darren T. Knaus .... assistant sound editor
Manny Leyva .... sound utility
Cynthia Merrill .... foley artist
Joe Milner .... supervising sound editor: effects
Nick Neutra .... foley mixer
Thomas O'Neil Younkman .... first assistant sound editor
Sarah Payan .... sound editor
Perry Robertson .... sound editor
Gregg Silk .... second engineer
David Stanke .... assistant sound editor
Greg Steele .... adr mixer
Nancy MacLeod .... foley editor (uncredited)
Special Effects by
Ron Bolanowski .... special effects supervisor
Visual Effects by
Marla Carter Barrett .... title compositor (as Marla Carter)
Robert Stromberg .... matte painting
Patrick Zentis .... matte artist
Mimi Gilbert .... stunt double: Lucy
Troy Gilbert .... stunt coordinator
Andy Gill .... stunt coordinator
Jack Gill .... stunt coordinator
Joel Kramer .... stunt coordinator
Lane Leavitt .... stunts
David Loitz .... precision driver
Patricia M. Peters .... stunt double: Rita (as Tricia Peters)
Jimmy Romano .... stunt coordinator
Erik Stabenau .... stunt double: Sam
Camera and Electrical Department
Art Bartels .... key grip
Ted Caloroso .... first assistant camera: "b" camera
Bruce Chimerofsky .... best boy grip
James F. Cornick .... rigging gaffer
Andrae Crawford .... film loader
Jim Duggan .... company grip (as James Duggan)
Jenifer Galvez .... set lighting technician
Lamarr Gray .... rigging best boy
Bill Greenberg .... electrician
Michael Gulbin .... grip
Ted Lewis .... company grip
Chris Lombardi .... camera operator: "b" camera
Dayton Nietert .... gaffer
Jeremy Antonio Oliver .... electrician
Brendon Phillips .... rigging electrician
David D. Scott .... video assist operator
Lorey Sebastian .... still photographer
Sean Shinneman .... company grip
Cricket Sloat .... assistant chief lighting technician
Christopher A. Zwirner .... electrician
Val Sklar .... loader (uncredited)
Casting Department
Sandra Kuker .... extras casting
Leanna Sheldon .... casting associate
Costume and Wardrobe Department
Lynda Foote .... costume supervisor
Jennifer Morrison Holyfield .... costumer: Ms. Pfeiffer (as Jennifer Holyfield)
Jo Kissack .... set costumer
Editorial Department
Colby Enders .... apprentice editor
Adrian Kays .... editor: end title montage
Dan Muscarella .... color timer
Mark Yoshikawa .... first assistant editor
Music Department
Julian Bratolyubov .... music preparation
Paul Broucek .... music executive
David Carpenter .... featured musician: bass (as Dave Carpenter)
Sandy DeCrescent .... orchestra contractor
Terry Delsing .... music editor
George Doering .... musician
Steve Erdody .... featured musician: Solo cello
Michael Fisher .... featured musician: percussion
Bruce Fowler .... orchestrator
Gavin Greenaway .... conductor
Tod Holcomb .... additional music editor
Mark Kaufman .... music clearance executive
Malcolm Luker .... score recordist
Malcolm Luker .... scoring mixer
James McKee Smith .... assistant to composer
Alan Meyerson .... music scoring mixer
Yvonne S. Moriarty .... orchestrator (as Suzette Moriarty)
Heitor Pereira .... featured musician: Ukes & guitars
Joel J. Richard .... music assistant
Joel J. Richard .... music programmer
Erin Scully .... music executive
Lori Silfen .... music business affairs
Curt Sobel .... temp music editor
Terry Wilson .... music editor
Hans Zimmer .... original music producer
Transportation Department
Jeff Couch .... transportation captain
Julie E. Furnas .... transportation production assistant
J. Armin Garza II .... driver: camera car
Alan Kaminsky .... transportation co-captain
Brian Kay .... production van driver
'Wild Bill' Laczko .... transportation
A. Welch Lambeth .... transportation coordinator (as Welch Lambeth)
Jan Overson .... driver: honeywagon
Harold L. Woods .... driver
Other crew
Nellie Adami .... production coordinator
Diana Adams .... production accountant (as Diana Olsen)
Derek Avila .... assistant location manager
Cassandra Barbour .... rights and clearances: post-production
Buffy Beyer .... assistant: Mr. Rubin
Bianca Bezdek-Goodloe .... legal services
Kayce Brown .... set assistant: Ms. Pfeiffer
Scotty Brown .... assistant location manager
Jan Cerwonka .... studio teacher
Scott Cler .... production assistant
Judy Heinzen Culotta .... assistant location manager (as Judy Heinzen)
Marlena De Fabrizio .... production assistant
Russ Fega .... location manager
Dusten Gazzola .... production assistant
Juliandra Gillen .... stand-in: Rita
Lina Godouse .... stand-in: Lucy (as Lina Godhouse)
Josh Gummersall .... assistant: Marshall Herskovitz
Giselle Gurza .... production assistant
Jason Gutierrez .... production assistant
Trent Hara .... assistant production coordinator
Debbie Hayn-Cass .... production executive
Pete Ibarra .... production assistant
Marc Jacobs .... production resources
Caren Kaplow .... assistant: Ms. Pfeiffer
Kristi Kasubaski .... first assistant accountant
Katrina Kincaid .... production assistant
Linda Klein .... medical technical advisor
Graham Larson .... assistant: Mr. Zwick
Christopher Lee .... location scout
Steven Maines .... stand-in: Sam
Sato Masuzawa .... assistant: Mr. Penn
Andrew Matthews .... financial advisor
Sara Mayer .... set production assistant
Michael McElroy .... adr loop group
Brian McMillan .... animal trainer
David Mendoza .... production assistant
Kristi Mujica .... first assistant accountant
Jason Novak .... assistant: Rick Solomon
Elion Olson .... set production assistant
Jennifer Pedevilla .... payroll accountant
John M. Pisani .... unit publicist
Wonder Fortune Serra .... assistant: Mr. Nelson
Laura Sevier .... rights and clearances: post-production
Steve Solomon .... animal trainer
E. Michael Stankevich .... production secretary
Travis Taylor .... production assistant
Scout Taylor-Compton .... adr loop group
Tyrel Ventura .... set assistant: Mr. Penn
Brenda K. Wachel .... script supervisor
Art Wolff .... dialogue coach: Dakota Fanning
Garson Yu .... title designer
Ronald C. Briggs Jr. .... inventory services (uncredited)
Robert Foulkes .... co-location manager (uncredited)
Robert Hampton Frazier IV .... production assistant (uncredited)
Gary Rodriguez .... stand-in (uncredited)
Jesse Wagler .... production assistant: yU+Co. (uncredited)
Lynne Finkelor .... thanks
Debbie Nelson .... thanks
Yoko Ono .... thanks
Michael Rhode .... thanks
Cameron Taylor-Brown .... thanks
Susan Wilder .... thanks

Production CompaniesDistributorsOther Companies

Additional Details

Also Known As:
Rated PG-13 for language
132 min
Aspect Ratio:
1.85 : 1 See more »
Sound Mix:

Did You Know?

Dakota Fanning's little sister, Elle Fanning played her at age 3.See more »
Errors made by characters (possibly deliberate errors by the filmmakers): When Annie is teaching Sam when to feed Lucy and they are talking about what "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" is about, Annie says "But John Lennon said, it was about a friend of his son Julian Lennon's from school - Lucy O'Connell". The real girl's name was "Lucy O'Donnell".See more »
Sam:You've grown.
Lucy:Have I?
Sam:Yeah, 'cause your ears are bigger and your eyes are older.
See more »
Movie Connections:
Referenced in The Ringer (2005)See more »
Golden SlumbersSee more »


I am confused by the ending. Who wins custody of Lucy?
See more »
123 out of 153 people found the following review useful.
Wow!, 15 June 2005
Author: Brandt Sponseller from New York City

I know that title isn't very descriptive, but all I could say for awhile after watching I Am Sam was, "Wow!" Although that's a positive endorsement of the film--it's rare that a film has me basically speechless afterward (I usually suffer from logorrhea, which sounds close enough to diarrhea that you could call it (verbal) flatulence instead if you like)--it turned out to be quite a problem, because we went to dinner right afterward and I had to give a lecture. I believe I was served some kind of raw beef, and I have an exorbitant dry cleaning bill from the tomatoes and rotten eggs.

But I won't bill director/co-writer Jessie Nelson, because it's not her fault that her film is so powerful and so stunningly constructed that it made me monosyllabic. I can only blame myself for putting off watching her work for so long.

I Am Sam begins with Sam Dawson (Sean Penn) at his job. He lives in Santa Monica and works at Starbucks. We can see that he's mentally retarded. He appears slightly autistic. Because of this, he's given only menial tasks to do. Suddenly, his boss tells him that he has to go. We see Sam running through the streets, catching buses and so on to end up at a hospital. A woman is in labor and it turns out that he's the father, but she wants nothing to do with him afterward--apparently, it was something like a one night stand. She abandons him with the baby. Aided by a quartet of developmentally disabled friends and his agoraphobic neighbor, Annie Cassell (Dianne Wiest), we see Sam doing his best to raise the girl, Lucy Diamond Dawson (eventually played by Dakota Fanning)--so named because Sam is a big Beatles fan. At least until he is "accidentally arrested". Government officials question his ability to raise his daughter, and I Am Sam becomes the tale of Sam's legal battle to retain custody of Lucy, aided by high profile lawyer Rita Harrison (Michelle Pfeiffer).

I Am Sam will likely make you say, "Wow!" afterward because it is a masterpiece on every artistic and technical level.

All of the major cast members give one of the best performances of their careers, and many of these actors have had a number of artistic triumphs on their résumés. Sean Penn is completely natural and believable as a developmentally disabled man. Two of the men playing his friends really were developmentally disabled, having been found at L.A. Goal, a non-profit agency dedicated to helping such people through a variety of programs, and it's next to impossible to tell them apart from the other actors. Nelson and her co-writer, Kristine Johnson, spent a lot of time at L.A. Goal doing research, as did Penn. Pfeiffer perfectly executes a complex character who has to undergo a number of far reaching transformations and even a breakdown of sorts. As for Fanning, I haven't seen her in a film yet where she didn't threaten to steal the whole thing from her senior, much more experienced colleagues, and during the filming of I Am Sam she was only 6 or 7. Wiest, Richard Schiff, Laura Dern and others also turn in very complex performances that convey characters with deep, multifaceted histories, despite their relatively little screen time.

Nelson approaches the film with a number of unusual artistic and technical angles that all work wonderfully. The cinematography is mostly hand-held work. Unlike similar attempts in films such as Lars Von Trier's Dogville (2003), the hand-held work never feels affected or intrusive here--it's completely "organic". The most common purpose of the unusual cinematography is to give the viewer almost a subjective sense of what it's like to be Sam, to experience the world in the way he does. Cinematographer Elliot Davis moves his camera in a way closely mirrored with Sean Penn's movements. There's an additional emotional symbolism. When Sam is feeling agitated, the camera-work is agitated. Likewise when Sam is confused, pensive, and so on. Davis shoots from a lot of unusual angles. All of them work.

Nelson also has the editing, lighting and production design match the aesthetic of the cinematography. The editing is sometimes very choppy, but always feels "natural", just right for conveying Sam's experience. Sometimes there are odd incongruencies between sound and image, or between temporal sequences. The lighting, camera angles and production design often make some elements appropriately fantastical. The production design and costuming match not only Sam's world, but other characters' worlds, as well. Not one aspect of the film seems to have gone by without close examination and artistic justification.

The music, which largely consists of Beatles tunes performed by other artists, fits the film perfectly. Sam and his friends are all a bit obsessed with the Beatles (and apparently, so were many L.A. Goal members when Nelson visited). The Beatles tunes exquisitely match the various moods of the film, and the lyrics often complement emotions and actions.

But even above all of that, I Am Sam tells a heart-wrenching story that's something of an exciting, emotional roller-coaster. There are many humorous scenes, often centered on Sam and his buddies going about the world with a kind of Winnie the Pooh-like wisdom that seems more honest and admirable than most of the film's "normal" folks. Of course, there are also many scenes that will require tissues for tears. And there's just about every emotion in between the two.

Finally, the film has a great message. Does parenting, or general personal worth, really hinge on intellectual ability and amassed knowledge? I don't think so. Parents who are very smart can have more than their share of flaws, as we see with Pfeiffer's character early on. Plenty of us had parents who were smart enough but couldn't help us with our geometry homework. Love may not be all you need, but it's definitely one of the major prerequisites.

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Did Sam and Rita sleep together?? charlieinred
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