Projections - Movie Reviews

I Am Sam

Sean Penn does quite a job in immersing one into the conflicted life of a retarded parent in the Seussical-titled film I Am Sam.  There's something about his manic insights that holds one's attention despite a premise that may not hold up with those who raise kids.

The feeling that the proficient actor puts into the part is remarkable in many ways, but Jessie Nelson's film isn't the kind you would see him directing.  Sam performs tasks at an LA Starbucks and I Am Sam is a long ad for the posh emporium.

The background of Sam's life is subservient to the birth of a daughter with a homeless woman he has cared for through out her life.

Sam shows much diligence as a father, aided by four friends with similar mental abilities, as well as Dianne Wiest's Annie.  She's a pianist neighbor with agoraphobia.

Lucy, as a 7-year-old, is performed quite ably by Dakota Fanning in her debut, and I Am Sam is at its best when the young actress and Penn connect given a father's touchy emotional and mental slate.  At her stage in life, Lucy is beginning to pass Sam in ability.

Thus, it comes as no surprise that Loretta Devine's concerned social worker sees trouble from a birthday party that moves Lucy into a foster home.  A judge will have to determine what's best for her.

A melancholic Sam is helped by his pals to arbitrarily locate costly legal expertise from the phone book.  Michelle Pfeiffer (What Lies Beneath) plays Rita coldly and uncomfortably and won't look Sam's way at first.  Yet, her lawyer colleagues get the edgy woman to work the challenging custody case pro bono.

Pfeiffer can't make her stock character very interesting at all with Rita's inner self unable to add dimension to a self-serving career woman.  Laura Dern, however, isn't manipulated by the film makers as she provides some able backup as Lucy's unreal perfect foster mother.

Still, if Penn makes you care enough about someone who is undervalued because of how he's perceived, then I Am Sam shamelessly treads the waters of Kramer vs. Kramer.  But Nelson, who co-wrote The Story of Us starring Pfeiffer, again puts too much emotion and energy, as well as Beatles references, into a movie that has more heart in its lighter moments than its dramatic ones.

I Am Sam

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