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I Am Sam
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Reviews & Ratings for
I Am Sam More at IMDbPro »

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148 out of 168 people found the following review useful:

stunning performances

10/10
Author: Tegan from Sydney
1 July 2002

A Truly wonderful film that left you thinking and feeling for hours after walking out of the cinema.

Michelle Pfeiffer is exact in her portrayal of the smart, rich, no-nonsense lawyer who realises how empty her luxurious and successful life is. As always she delivers an outstanding performance and reminds us of just how excellent and beautiful an actress she is.

Sean Penn is so believable that you forget that he doesn't actually have anything wrong with him...he captures every emotion perfectly and instills all of that emotion in the audience. Penn is highly under rated in the world that is movies, as he shows with this Oscar potential performance.

The young actress who plays his daughter is amazingly mature in her acting, whilst always managing to capture the innocence of her youthfullness. On top of all that she is gorgeous. The combination of three excellent main actors combined with the supporting actors and the genuine theme and style of the film makes I am Sam an excellent and must see film. Truly Inspiring.

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151 out of 187 people found the following review useful:

I don't feel so tough after this one ...

9/10
Author: tufftexan from Dallas, Texas
2 February 2002

There's only one reason why I don't like this movie right now. Because I have a splitting headache from being emotionally drained!

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE has been the top of my list for all time favorite movies, now I AM SAM has moved in right next to it.

I'm not saying that you have to have kids to understand the true meaning behind this movie, but I must say it certainly helps. I told my wife on the way back home from the movie that she was sooo stuck with me. She knew what I was referring to; our 6 month old little girl and our 5 year old little girl. I guess I'm just a good ole fashion softy. I came home and gave my 5 year old the biggest hug of her life and the tears just started flowing. I felt I had been impatient with her lately and just needed to let her know how much her daddy loves her.

I know this isn't a true rating of a movie. I'm not describing certain scenes that I thought were great or needed improving, I just wanted to express how it made me feel. And though I have a pounding head right now, I feel like I'm the luckiest dad in the world!

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123 out of 152 people found the following review useful:

Wow!

10/10
Author: Brandt Sponseller from New York City
15 June 2005

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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88 out of 99 people found the following review useful:

Great film, but hard to watch at times

Author: amy60640 from Chicago
28 August 2002

I Am Sam is a great movie that deals with marginalized people in our society and how they're treated. It's a very realistic portrayal. I watched it with my 13 year old daughter and it alternately made us cry, got us angry and caused us to laugh uncontrollably.

Sam is loved and respected by those who know him (Starbuck's patrons, IHOP Waitress, friends), taunted by those who have no regard for anyone different (Lucy's arrogant classmate and his equally arrogant father) and generally misunderstood by everyone else.

I especially liked the irony of the lawyer, who is an emotional train wreck, yet because she's an adult intellecutally, no one questions her ability as a parent. Sam on the other hand loves his daughter and it shows.

This movie is not for anyone looking for a "fun weekend rent". If you rent this, be prepared to have your values and your emotions challenged.

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82 out of 105 people found the following review useful:

The Greatest Film I've Ever Seen

10/10
Author: SteakSalad_101 from New Jersey, USA
25 February 2007

I Am Sam is one of, if not the best, motion picture of all time.

I Am Sam is about a retarded man named Sam (Sean Penn) who has a mental capacity of a 7-year old. He works as a server at Starbucks, is obsessed with The Beatles, and loves IHOP. After he accidentally has a daughter (Dakota Fanning) with a homeless woman who he names after the song Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds. The woman leaves him, and Sam is left to care for Lucy by himself. However, when Lucy intentionally begins to hold back in school to prevent becoming smarter from her father, child protective services takes her away and Sam must fight to obtain custody. He befriends a lawyer, Rita (Michelle Pfeiffer) with a bad marriage and a son who she thinks hates her. Together, Sam and Rita fight for Lucy's custody in a heartwrenching roller coaster of tears, laughs, and the overwhelming power of human spirit.

This is all beside some of the most stunning performances I've ever seen in a film. Sean Penn is top of his game and gives an amazingly realistic performance as a disabled man without a single flaw. To this day it makes me furious he didn't win the Oscar. Dakota Fanning's premiere role is by far her greatest ever, and at only six years old opened the eyes of actresses who've been in the business for years and basically screamed into their faces "This is how acting is done." And Michelle Pfeiffer delivers a phenomenal, incredibly realistic performance that will absolutely take your breath away.

As the film progresses, you will find yourself laughing one minute, crying the next (you WILL cry no matter how mature or old you are, so make sure you have tissues), the next moment tapping your foot along to the familiar Beatles tunes found throughout the movie (even though they're covers) and the next moment simply staring at the screen not believing your eyes and ears at how emotionally powerful a film can be.

And after watching, you won't want to ever give the DVD back to Blockbuster. If you don't at least give this movie a chance, you will truly be missing out on one of the shiniest gems of modern cinema ever.

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68 out of 85 people found the following review useful:

Powerful film!

9/10
Author: grahamsj3 from United States
10 October 2002

I haven't been a fan of Sean Penn's since Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Since that time, nearly all his films have left me flat. In fact, I nearly didn't watch this film since he was in it. What a loss it would have been if I'd missed it! I won't go into the story line since that's been reviewed a lot by others. The story is sort of a cliché'd one and has been done before, though not as well. The story isn't this film's strength anyway - it's the acting. Rarely have I seen a film with this much powerful acting. Penn's performance as Sam is brilliant! He must have studied autistic/mentally challenged people to pull this performance off. I also want to mention how good Michele Pfeiffer was in this. Her character starts out as a hard-hearted witch and ends up being very human, thanks to her exposure to Sam. The change in her is gradual, subtle and fun to watch. Sams friends, very well played by Brad Silverman, Joseph Rosenberg, Stanley DeSantis and Doug Hutchinson are very important support characters. Laura Dern gives a stellar performance as Randy. Dakota Fanning as Lucy very nearly steals the show. This little actress has quite a career ahead of her, I hope! This film is delicately balanced, and has a good bit of humor interspersed with parts that will have even the most insensitive of you reaching for a tissue. The film has a sort of a sappy (and somewhat surprising) outcome, but by this time any other ending would have been pretty much unacceptable to most people. This movie blew me away and I gave it a 9.

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69 out of 91 people found the following review useful:

Mentally challenged single dad fights to care for daughter

8/10
Author: mdm-11 from United States
1 October 2004

Sean Penn as a devoted father (Sam) who despite mental challenges, fights for the right to raise his child is convincing in a complete departure from his usual "bad guy" characters. Michelle Pfeiffer plays his reluctant "pro bono" elite lawyer, who eventually puts 110% into this case.

The love between Sam and his 7 year old daughter is evident in many sweet scenes (got Kleenex?), best described by a reclusive neighbor (wonderfully played by Dianne Wiest), who overcomes her hermit-like condition long enough to testify in Sam's behalf. Even the social workers who insisted on doing everything to "help the child" appear to be fighting emotions over this unusual case. The "support system", which includes several equally challenged "buddies", a very supportive employer, and many other people in the community gives evidence of our changing society, fostering inclusion and tolerance. Eventually even the prospective adoptive parents of Sam's daughter can't go on fighting against this exemplary father.

The girl playing Sam's daughter appears to be "gifted", at age 7 reading middle school material. Perhaps the "difference" between father & daughter's intelligence did not have to be in such an obvious extreme. The implication of a romantic involvement between Sam and his lawyer could have been avoided as well. The former is stretching it, but the latter is going too far. One can suspend her/his disbelief only so much! Since there are no "perfect" movies, I still consider this one pretty darn close! Highly recommended.

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47 out of 62 people found the following review useful:

Very well done, especially Penn and Fanning

Author: vchimpanzee
4 August 2005

In 'Rain Man', Dustin Hoffman gave the best portrayal I have ever seen of a mentally disturbed person, but Sean Penn came very close here. He was quite convincing but somewhat funnier. With Hoffman, I never quite knew when he was supposed to be funny, but with Penn there were many funny moments that I felt okay about laughing at. And I just had to like the character.

I've heard so many good things about Dakota Fanning, and now I see for myself. She's great.

The actors playing Sam's friends also seemed very convincing, one in particular. I didn't catch his name, but he wore glasses and I think he must have really been mentally disabled. The others could have been but might just have been acting.

MIchelle Pfeiffer was very good also, and gorgeous. And Richard Schiff was likable as the lawyer on the other side of Sam's case. In fact, I didn't see those who were against Sam as evil. They just had Lucy's best interests in mind. But I wanted Sam to win.

While it is true this may have been done before, I think this movie offered unique twists and qualities other movies didn't have, and the performances were very good.

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27 out of 37 people found the following review useful:

Effective Performance By Sean Penn

7/10
Author: sddavis63 (revsdd@gmail.com) from Niagara Region, Ontario, Canada
25 November 2002

I have to confess off the top that I am not and never have been a particular fan of Sean Penn. I have no specific criticism to make of him; as an actor he simply doesn't appeal to me. Because of that bias I approached this movie with low expectations. The story of a mentally handicapped man fighting for custody of his seven year old daughter sounded intriguing, but it starred Penn. But what a pleasant surprise this movie turned out to be!

Penn is actually very good in this role. He brings a realism to the character of Sam Dawson, and portrays him sensitively and with real emotion. In fact, I thought the only performance that was better than Penn's came not from Michelle Pfeiffer (who disappointed me a bit, actually) but rather from little Dakota Fanning as Sam's daughter Lucy. She seemed so natural in this role, and I would hope that we see more of her in the years to come. Pfeiffer, on the other hand, (as Sam's lawyer Rita Harrison) just didn't carry the role off that well, and even the courtroom scenes to me lacked the tension one would have expected from such an emotionally-laden issue.

The movie weakens in the last little bit, going for the sappy (and highly unrealistic) ending - unrealistic particularly in the way Lucy's foster mother (Laura Dern) ends up handling the situation.

Having said that, I still enjoyed this movie very much. It's raised my assessment of Sean Penn's acting abilities and I would recommend it to others and would watch it again.

7/10

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12 out of 16 people found the following review useful:

love is all you need

9/10
Author: Lady Targaryen from Brazil
9 March 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

When I saw in television announcing about the story of ''I Am Sam'', I didn't think twice and got the DVD of this movie to watch. First of all, Sean Penn's performance is awesome! He really look a mentally challenged person in all his acts and ways to move and talk! Michelle Pfeiffer also has a great performance and is very beautiful in this movie as Sam's lawyer Rita Harrison.

Sam Dawson is a mentally retarded man, who has the same capacity of a 7 year-old child..He works at a Starbucks, loves the Beatles( his favorite band) and one day has a normal daughter with a homeless woman, who abandons him and her daughter when she has the chance. Sam takes care of his daughter, who he gives the name Lucy Diamond, with the help of his friends, specially Annie.( a piano teacher who is his neighbour) But time is passing, and when Lucy reaches 7 years old she understands her father is not *normal* and intentionally tries not to be smarter than him,what makes her have problems in school. The Social service takes her away to another family, and Sam needs the help of a lawyer to win the case. That's where Rita Harrison enters, and she will not only help Sam, but learn great values with him.

aka "Uma Lição de Amor" - Brazil

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