Volume 95, Issue 65

Tuesday, January 29, 2002

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Sam is emotional ride

Count swings action and talent

Orange County doesn't suck?

Sam is emotional ride

Rollercoaster leaves you smiling

I am Sam

Starring: Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer, Laura Dern, Dakota Fanning, Diane Wiest, Joseph Rosenberg, Brad Silverman

Directed By: Jesse Nelson

Four 1/2 stars (out of five)

By Jonathan Higgins
Gazette Writer

He's been married to Madonna. He's been on death row. But, in his latest role in I am Sam
Sean Penn plays a mentally-challenged father fighting to prove he can handle the responsibility.

I am Sam is an emotional tearjerker aided by the odd moment of comic relief.

Like most fathers, Sam Dawson (Sean Penn) is eagerly awaiting the delivery of his child. However, the mother, a homeless woman who used Sam's apartment as a place to crash, does not feel the same way about the upcoming birth.

Once her child, a daughter named Lucy (Dakota Fanning), is born, she leaves Sam. Facing a seemingly impossible task raising a child as a mentally-challenged single father Sam looks for some friendly advice to help him out.

Although Lucy has a somewhat unique, yet enjoyable homelife, social services doesn't think a man of Sam's intelligence is capable of raising a "normal" girl. Thus, the court takes Lucy away from him.

Sam must now prove himself a suitable father and unfortunately, his case does not look good. In order to win back custody of his daughter, he must obtain the best legal representation. That's where workaholic, hotshot lawyer, Rita Harrison (Michelle Pfeiffer), enters the picture.

Together, the two set out to prove to the court that Sam's love for his daughter makes him as suitable, if not more suitable, to raise a little girl than most "normal" fathers.

Lucy's performance, by the up-and-coming Fanning, was quite enjoyable. The audience never gets the impression she is an actress playing a part, but rather, a little girl being viciously uprooted from the father whom she loves with all her heart.

Pfeiffer gives an excellent performance as the successful, workaholic single mother who pays more attention to her cases than to her son. However, neither performance even comes close to that of Penn.

Penn is able to capture most of the physical and emotional features of a mentally-challenged individual and produce an extremely realistic character that could make you cry and laugh all in the same minute.

Penn's performance is so realistic that the only difference between him and the two genuinely mentally-challenged actors in this film, Joseph Rosenberg and Brad Silverman, are the physical traits they were born with.

Writer/director/producer Jessie Nelson is no stranger to this genre. She has made many emotional family dramas, but I am Sam is by far her best film

Throughout the film, Sam makes references to various Beatles' songs, making the soundtrack a pure pleasure to listen to.

I am Sam is a rollercoaster, but thanks to the successful mixture of drama and comedy, it's guaranteed to send you home from the theatre with a smile on your face.

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Copyright The Gazette 2001