- Vancouver, British Columbia - I’ve seen this movie a few times before, I’ve discussed it in an ethics class, and I’ve read some of the stinging criticisms of the movie which are perfectly valid. So I thought I had steeled myself up enough to not get all weepy eyed through the film. Surely I could watch this movie objectively enough without having my emotions run rampant and break my extremely masculine demeanor.
Then it happened. I watched the film and sadness overwhelmed me. The circumstances are just so amazingly unfair. The man loves his daughter and he seems incapable of understanding all the issues. His emotions, her emotions, my emotions…they’ve all gotten tangled up and I feel my eyes welling up and my heart breaking. How far along in the movie am I anyway?
i am sam tells the story of Sam Dawson (Sean Penn), a disabled man with the intellectual capacity of a seven year old who has to raise his daughter Lucy (Dakota Fanning) on his own after the mother runs out on them while she is an infant. He struggles to keep up with her, but shows love and devotion. After Sam is busted for mistakenly soliciting a prostitute, Child Services starts questioning his ability to raise his daughter. Through sheer luck, Sam is able to acquire the emotionally dysfunctional Rita Harrison (Michelle Pfeiffer) as his lawyer, and the two begin to fight to get his daughter back from the state.
Sean Penn Month: This is the first film I remember seeing Sean Penn in, and at the time I questioned whether or not he was actually mentally disabled. His mannerisms, both vocal and physical, are amazingly convincing. It’s an extremely admirable performance, as not only does he nail the disability but he makes Sam a unique character. He needs routine, but we can see that it’s not because he’s a robot, but because it’s a source of comfort. He communicates so well with his eyes that he could have played the character as a mute. With four entirely different performances of his that I’ve reviewed, rewatching this film was a shock. This is a man who was born to act.
I have to credit Michelle Pfeiffer as ballast in this movie’s heart. She’s intensely complicated and it was a real pleasure to watch her evolve due to Harrison’s exposure to Sam. There’s a ruthlessness about her that is evidently a mask for her inferiority complex. A fantastic performance.
Now, I like Dakota Fanning and this was a hard role for her. She has an amazing amount of dialogue and you can see the genuine affection in her expressions. But at times I found her to be too adult. I know that in a way that’s what the movie was going for, as one of her drawings depicts Lucy as larger than her father, as if to say that she knew she was growing up more than he could. But some of her lines and delivery were still far too adult for a seven year old.
The Beatles’ references were a little distracting at time, but I’ll give them a pass because of how it lends to the theme of the movie. Sam has to bring difficult concepts to terms he can understand. So in court, when he’s grilled about losing Lucy, he falls back on the Beatles breaking up in 1970 and relates to the emotions that caused. Sometimes, I didn’t get the Beatles’ allusions, but if you have to fall back on any music group to continually reference, the Beatles is a pretty safe bet.
Director Jessie Nelson hasn’t done that much, and it seems her other noteworthy directing project was Corrina, Corrina which is also supposed to be pretty good. She’s a bit of a novice, but is really giving her best effort. I took note of the colours she used and the context of the scenes therein, and give her props for that. I also noticed how the camera work itself was reflective of the atmosphere, going from slow and tranquil to jarring and abrasive. That’s all great stuff. But at times I felt the movie was losing it’s way, and not sure where it wanted to go.
And that is what I feel the only real draw back to the film was. By the last twenty minutes, I wanted a pretty satisfying resolution but the film just kind of petered out. I know that this is more reflective of real life, but I was still left unsatisfied, especially seeing how emotionally invested in the movie I was. And boy, I was invested.
Rating: 4/5 Sour Grapes