‘I Am Sam’

I Am Sam shows audiences that love, not intelligence, is what determines if one is a good parent. The movie is a powerful and moving story with true performances from Sean Penn and Michelle Pfeiffer that will have you reaching for the box of Kleenex right in the first scene. The validity of the plot and the cast’s realistic portrayal of the characters make the movie superb.
Judging from the trailer, the movie looks like your typical dramatic film with a happy ending. It was not until I read magnificent reviews and talks of Oscar nominations, that I decided to see the movie. I was totally blown away by the caliber of acting.
The movie tells the story of Sam Dawson, played by Sean Penn, a single, mentally challenged Starbucks employee, who raises his daughter Lucy (Dakota Fanning) with the help of his mentally challenged friends. At the age of seven, Lucy is taken away from her father by a social worker, who wants to place her in foster care.
Dawson struggles to find a lawyer that he can afford to help him get his daughter back. But with an hourly wage of $8.00, Dawson cannot hire a good lawyer. He luckily finds a woman by the name of Rita Harrison, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, who takes his case pro bono to prove to her co-workers that she is not as cruel and insensitive as they portray her to be.
Unfortunately, Harrison is everything her co-workers think of her-a high-powered, self-absorbed attorney without a heart. She takes the case for all of the wrong reasons, but ends up gaining more from the relationship with Dawson than she suspected.
By the end of the movie, Harrison’s prissy attitude alters for the better, ultimately winning the audiences’ liking. Throughout the trial they develop a great bond of friendship that teaches her how to love.
I Am Sam deals with the controversy of parenting by disabled persons. Harrison and Dawson fight to get Lucy back in a legal battle that is very familiar to many mentally challenged persons today. Dawson’s intelligence is that of a seven-year-old.
Once his daughter turns seven, however, she deliberately tries to prevent further education for fear of being smarter than her father. It is the court’s job to evaluate Dawson’s ability to raise his daughter. In this particular case, the ending is appropriate and will leave both sides in agreement over the fate of the child.
Richard Schiff (The West Wing) plays the opposing lawyer. Another famous actor in this strong cast is two-time Academy Award winner Dianne Wiest of Law and Order. Both characters add new conflicts and angles to the plot, while giving very strong performances.
Penn’s performance as a disabled single parent is magnificent. Penn’s portrayal is natural, and believable without being offensive or stereotypical. In the movie there are people with actual disabilities that play themselves along side Penn. The viewer will not be able to tell the difference.
Penn’s performance is comparable, if not superior to Russell’s Crowe’s performance in A Beautiful Mind. Even though Crowe took home the Golden Globe for best actor, my bet is on Penn for the Oscar.
I Am Sam: rated PG-13, now in theaters.

January 29, 2002


The Miami Hurricane

Student newspaper at the University of Miami

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