Jan 302002

(Four Stars out of Five)

“I Am Sam” is a good choice of a movie to see, especially as a date movie with Valentine’s Day right around the corner.

Sean Penn stars as Sam Dawson, a mentally disabled man who raises his young daughter Lucy (Dakota Fanning) on his own with little help from the outside world. Lucy’s mother left the day that she was released from the hospital after Lucy’s birth. Dawson is a caring, successful parent, at least until the time when Lucy turns seven and begins to become smarter than her father. Lucy also endures ridicule from her classmates. At this point, Child Protective Services takes Lucy away.

Dawson wants to keep Lucy and plans to find a lawyer to help fight to get her back. This is when he meets Rita Harris (Michelle Pfeiffer), a self-absorbed divorce and custody lawyer who doesn’t take Dawson’s case out of pity, but instead to prove to her aristocratic friends and co-workers that she does have a heart. Ironically, she has a 7-year-old son, but her bond with him is not near the connection Dawson shares with his daughter. Harris tries to make her son happy by buying him the latest toys, instead of spending time with him.

While Penn’s performance is commendable, this is a role we have seen before. Dustin Hoffman did a better job as the mentally disabled Raymond Babbitt in “Rain Man.” Hoffman’s calm acting and monotone voice earned him a deserved Oscar, while Penn’s performance, while not as skillful, is still compelling. Penn will probably earn an Oscar nomination.

Pfeiffer’s supporting role is also not quite as original as Tom Cruise’s role as Charlie Babbitt in “Rain Man.” Cruise played a villain who gradually turns around to love the brother he originally sought to take advantage of. Cruise’s metamorphosis into a caring person is much more subtle than Pfeiffer’s sudden and less believable breakdown when she realizes she is living a flawed and materialistic life.

There was some really heinous product placement in this movie. Companies from Starbucks to Pizza Hut were featured so much, it seems their products were shoved down your throat. There was even a close-up shot for Tab Cola. I guess movies are not getting any cheaper to make these days, but I wonder how much writers have to change a script in a movie like this in order to accommodate advertisers.

All in all, “I Am Sam” is a decent movie though. It succeeds in tugging your heartstrings. The interaction between Sam Dawson and his daughter looks genuine, and it was the best part of the movie by far. Dakota Fanning’s debut performance as Lucy is great. Hopefully, she has a longer and more prosperous career than other child actors.

Another good thing about the movie was Laura Dern’s cameo appearance as Lucy’s future stepmother Randy Carpenter. The wide variety of creative camera shots and slow-speed takes that director of photography Elliot Davis chose were also excellent.

The movie was a little longer than it should have been, especially in the courtroom scenes, but it isn’t so long that you’ll fall asleep. The ending is a bit surprising so I won’t spoil it, but I left the theater feeling a little bit more satisfied than I had expected from a serious movie like this. n

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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