Tuesday, 2 February 2016

I Am Sam, 2002

Love is all you need is the tag line of I Am Sam. I offer a review of the film for Tuesday’s Overlooked Films, Audio and Video over at Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom.

Lucy (Dakota Fanning): Why are men bald?

Sam (Sean Penn): Sometimes they're bald because their head is shiny and they don't have hair on it. So their head is just more of their face. 



Whether as a producer, director or writer, Jessie Nelson seems to be pleasantly obsessed with issues of coping and bonding, which form the underlying structure of many of her films. This is evident in her directorial ventures, Corrina, Corrina (1994), I Am Sam (2002), and Love the Coopers (2015), where she explores the complexities of love and relationships. 

Sam Dawson (Sean Penn), a mentally-challenged man, raises his daughter Lucy Diamond (Dakota Fanning) after her mother abandons her at birth. He has named her after The Beatles song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. He works at Starbucks and is equally obsessed with brewing coffee. Sam adores his daughter in his own childlike way and Lucy loves him no less. At times she is forced to play the role of parent, but she won't let on that her intellectual capacity is superior to his.

When she turns seven, the authorities take away the precocious child, ostensibly, for her own good. Father and daughter meet under supervision and hate every bit of it. Sam struggles to find a lawyer who will help him get his little girl back. He finds Rita Harrison Williams (Michelle Pfeiffer), a self-centered, high-society lawyer, who takes up his case pro bono, only to prove a point to her snickering colleagues. Does she win the courtroom battle?

Rita (Michelle Pfeiffer): I just don't know what to call you: retarded, mentally retarded, mentally handicapped, mentally disabled, intellectually handicapped, intellectually disabled, developmentally disabled...

Sam (Penn): You can call me Sam.

Jessie Nelson has handled the subject of a retarded parent, who is crazy about his daughter, with a great deal of sensitivity, and dignified humour. The camerawork is respectful of the delicate subject. The various scenes are well-crafted. While exploring the beautiful, and often poignant, relationship between Sam and Lucy, she also offers a glimpse into another—obsessed with her career, Rita, a single parent, learns to bond with her neglected young son and finds new meaning in her life. She owes it to Sam.

Sean Penn’s performance—as a kindly man with a mental capacity of a seven-year old and yet of keen perception—is good. I can imagine how much he researched and trained for the role that requires facial contortions and repetition of speech. He is a method actor, I think. He plays the mentally disabled Sam Dawson to near perfection, though not convincingly enough to convert his nominations for ‘Best Actor in a Leading Role’ at the Oscars and SAGA, into awards. Whether he deserved one is open to debate.

Dakota Fanning is a natural-born actress and her remarkable talent shows in this film as well as it does in Man on Fire, War of the Worlds, and Hide and Seek. Michelle Pfeiffer acts well but is clearly overshadowed by Penn. I’d have preferred Susan Sarandon. She and Penn shared a good chemistry in Dead Man Walking (1995). Dianne Wiest, Richard Schiff, and Laura Dern put in more or less guest appearances.

The underlying message of I Am Sam is that, the mentally challenged are nearly as normal as anyone else, certainly more so where matters of the heart are concerned. It's a nice film and I liked it, partly because of Sean Penn's affecting screen presence.

Rita (Pfeiffer): Sam, I worry. I worry sometimes.

Sam (Penn): Yeah... do you worry that you did something wrong?

Rita: No. I worry that I've gotten more out of this relationship than you.

13 comments:

  1. It does sound like a nicely-done film, Prashant. And I absolutely love the idea that Sam sees himself as, well, Sam. That is, without labels and without stereotypes.

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    1. Margot, it was a simple and well-made film. You are right, there were no stereotypes usually associated with the handicap and other variously disabled. Sean Penn was very expressive.

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  2. Thanks, Prashant. I will look for it on video.

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    1. You are welcome, Elgin. I can expect reruns on cable, as most Hollywood films are telecast multiple times.

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  3. Never heard of this one, I'll keep an eye out - thanks!

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    1. Col, you are welcome. "I Am Sam" is a family drama and good for weekend viewing.

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  4. Thanks for the thoughtful review, Prashant. I do remember this film coming out but somehow missed it altogether.

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    1. Thank you, David. I chanced upon it on cable. I have watched some good films that way.

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  5. I haven't seen this film but I did hear about it. It sounds very good. I haven't seen Corrina, Corrina either but I think I would like to. Very nice post, Prashant.

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    1. Tracy, thank you. It's a fairly intense film and Sean Penn gives it his all. I saw CORRINA, CORRINA years ago and I hope to watch it again.

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  6. Very interesting subject matter, and it sounds well done. Will look out for it.

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    1. Moira, it's a film worth watching and I'm sure you will like it.

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