A.V. Club Most Read

News Newswire Great Job, Internet!
TV Club All Reviews What's On Tonight
Video All Video A.V. Undercover A.V. Cocktail Club Gift Guide
Reviews All Reviews Film TV Music Books
Features All Features TV Club Newswire
Sections Film Tv Music Food Comedy Books Games Aux
Our Company About Us Contact Advertise Privacy Policy Careers RSS
Onion Inc. Sites The Onion The A.V. Club ClickHole Onion Studios

I Am Sam

-

I Am Sam

Community Grade (2 Users)

  • A
  • A-
  • B+
  • B
  • B-
  • C+
  • C
  • C-
  • D+
  • D
  • D-
  • F

Your Grade

?

The problem with being a movie star is that fame, as a byproduct of success, tends to create boundaries for future success. Acting involves creating illusions, a process often counteracted by the familiarity brought on by celebrity. One of the better actors around, Sean Penn provides a perfect example of this paradox in I Am Sam. Playing a retarded coffee-shop employee fixated on The Beatles, Penn delivers a performance at once controlled, impressively detailed, and impossible to believe. Coming as it does from such a familiar face, it can't help but seem like something of a routine. If this were the least of I Am Sam's problems, it might not matter so much. Sadly, the film strands Penn in the middle of a story so manipulative that the appearance of mustache-twisting baddies never seems out of the question. As a single father, abandoned by the homeless woman who gave birth to his child, Penn accumulates lessons in parenthood through the help of his kindly agoraphobic neighbor (Dianne Wiest) and a Greek chorus of the fellow developmentally disabled. When the child grows into a wise-beyond-her-years 7-year-old (Dakota Fanning) and begins to surpass Penn's mental abilities, the arrangement develops problems, her friends' cruel mockery of Penn not the least of them. After a birthday party unexpectedly attended by a Children's Services representative goes predictably awry, Sam brings out the first of several scenes in which unsmiling authority figures cart Fanning away from her upset dad. Eventually, Penn guilt-trips high-powered, jellybean-munching attorney Michelle Pfeiffer into taking his case pro bono, and the film switches gears, becoming a tedious courtroom drama at least partially dependent on a phobia-challenging appearance by Wiest. Paced leisurely and directed with all the subtlety that might be expected of Jessie Nelson (a screenwriter on The Story Of Us and Stepmom), I Am Sam gives itself plenty of time to dilute its sap, particularly in a middle section that feels poised to deal with the actual issue of whether Penn is a good father. Other instincts eventually win out, however, as Nelson surrenders to the impulse to make Penn a lovable, misunderstood creature, not unlike the friendly yeti of Harry And The Hendersons. This is C-grade material that somehow attracted a grade-A cast. Perhaps Penn and company saw the film as the cinematic equivalent of working pro bono, but the final results make it hard to see who benefits.