banner image

:: I Am Sam

Ask many parents and they will say that parenthood is a tough task. Imagine what it’s like when a child’s intelligence is greater than that of the parent. “I Am Sam” considers such a scenario. Sam Dawson (Sean Penn) is a mentally handicapped person battling for the right to raise his daughter Lucy (Dakota Fanning).

Sam works as an assistant at a Starbucks coffee shop and his life is transformed when a woman living with him gives birth to their child. She promptly runs off and leaves him with the task of raising a daughter. Lucy is named after one of Sam’s favourite Beatles songs “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”. This is just one of several Beatles songs played throughout the film, as Sam is a big Beatles fan. Indeed the songs are most appealing in providing a calming, soothing effect in the spirit of the film.

“I Am Sam” challenges the usual ideals of what a family should be by demonstrating this father-daughter relationship. Sam is very devoted and is helped by a support group of four challenged friends and his neighbour Annie (Dianne Wiest). All seems okay until Lucy approaches her 7th birthday. It’s the point where her mental and emotional development is supposed to surpass her father’s. When the Department of Child Services hears about the situation, they come to take Lucy into foster care until a judge can decide her fate. There are touching scenes that show how Lucy cares deeply for her father and is even protective of him.

Sam requires a lawyer to represent him in a custody battle and finds himself approaching a well-credentialled, high profile lawyer Rita Harrison (Michelle Pfeiffer). She brushes him off, but then her law firm colleagues shame her into taking the case on a pro bono (free) basis. We then learn about the person that Rita is. She is a hard-nosed workaholic who is divorced and is having her own share of problems in raising a young son. She begins to realise from Sam’s relationship with Lucy, that good parenting is more than buying a child the hottest new toy.

The sentimentality in the film is obvious given the circumstances, though it could be seen as cliched and that we’ve seen much of this before in film and television. A couple of things are left unexplained, for example, about why Lucy turning seven years old is so significant in determining the suitability of Sam as a parent. What about the previous six years?

The good points of the film are the acting performances and the Beatles songs. The soundtrack is very good with today’s stars covering the classic Beatles tunes. Names to note on the songs are Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam), Sheryl Crow, Rufus Wainwright, Aimee Mann, just to name a few. Sam, being a compulsive Beatles fan, makes references to certain lyrics during the film.

Sean Penn gives a deep performance as a man trying to rise above his handicap. He disappears into the role and shows how powerful an actor he is. His Academy Award nomination in 2002 was well deserved. Dakota Fanning is a charming little girl who gives such sincerity, subtlety, and delicacy to her character. She almost carries the film. It is these two people that elevate the film to a reasonable standard. You’ll notice that the director, Jessie Nelson, adopts an interesting approach with up-close camera work. Overall, there is warmth that viewers will feel because of the powerfully acted scenes; thereby indicating that “I Am Sam” has its heart in the right place.

Screening on general release