I Am Sam (2001)





Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dakota Fanning, Dianne Wiest, Loretta Devine, Richard Schiff, Laura Dern, Marin Hinkle, Stanley DeSantis, Doug Hutchison, Rosalind Chao, Ken Jenkins, Wendy Phillips, Scott Paulin, Kimberly Scott, Michael B. Silver, Eileen Ryan, Mary Steenburgen, Elle Fanning


Sam Dawson (Sean Penn) is a mentally challenged father raising his daughter Lucy (Dakota Fanning). As Lucy turns seven and begins to intellectually surpass her father, their close bond is threatened when their situation comes under the scrutiny of a social worker (Loretta Devine) who wants Lucy placed in foster care. Faced with a seemingly unwinnable case, Sam forms an unlikely alliance with self-absorbed, high-powered attorney Rita Harrison (Michelle Pfeiffer), and in the process will teach her the value of love and family.


I am shocked. I can't see how it is even possible for this film to have a 34% rating at Rotten Tomatoes. If those people have actually seen the film, there's no way they could have written all those negative reviews.

Delivered by some stunning performances, I Am Sam is a truly emotional, and powerful film dealing with mental disability and the power of love.

This film lacks in originality - it feels like Kramer vs. Kramer and Rain Man had a baby -, it might deal with such a complex issue in a simple way, and it might be a little unrealistic because in real life cases such as this one wouldn't be even considered, but it's still a great drama. 

What director Jessie Nelson did here is to put emphasis on the main character's feelings, on the chance of seeing her daughter growing up in the best way possible, not availing of intelligence but of the ability to transmit an incredible love.

Technically speaking is all whole different story. Nelson seems to be under the influence of the documentary style, with an hand-held camera, not brilliantly used, that unfortunately doesn't add anything to the sentimentalism of the film. No wonder the cinematic world has lost her tracks.

The performances are outstanding. Once again, Sean Penn proves he can act. He gives an incredibly realistic performance as Sam, and comes very close to Dustin Hoffman's performance in Rain Man. There's one flaw though: he didn't get an Oscar for the role. Michelle Pfeiffer is charming - and gorgeous as usual - as lawyer Rita Harrison. Dakota Fanning is fantastic in the role of Lucy. She seems incredibly natural.

If you are looking for something that leaves you feeling and thinking, go for this one, you won't regret it.


Rita: I just don't know what to call you: retarded, mentally retarded, mentally handicapped, mentally disabled, intellectually handicapped, intellectually disabled, developmentally disabled...
Sam: You can call me Sam.


  1. I must admit to being one of the people who wrote a negative review of I am Sam and after reading your post I feel a little bit guilty. It's not a perfect film by any stretch, but it is both heartwarming and heartbreaking, and the message it carries is perhaps the most important thing.

    1. I've watched I am Sam again recently and I'm very happy to admit I was wrong!