Directed by Jessie Nelson, starring Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dianne Wiest, Laura Dern and Dakota Fanning.
Set in a contemporary America filled with product placement, ‘I Am Sam' tells the David and Goliath tale of Sam Dawson (Sean Penn) a mentally-challenged man who takes on the state and wins. After a sexual encounter with a homeless woman who gives birth to a child and disappears, Sam brings up his daughter alone naming her Lucy Diamond (Dakota Fanning) after the Beatles hit. Luckily, he also holds down a job at Starbucks and is aided with nappy-changing by agoraphobic neighbour Annie (Wiest) and his collection of eccentric friends.
Sam's situation comes to the attention of the authorities after he is mistakenly accused of picking up a prostitute. A tough legal battle ensues which involves top hard-faced lawyer Rita Harrison (Pfeiffer) in an unlikely pro-bono offer of help. Rita has her own problems; her husband is cheating and she never sees her son through over-work. As she struggles to help Sam win his daughter back, he in turn helps her to regain control of her personal life.
No doubt Penn's intentions in making this film were positive but instead it plumbs the worst depths of twee sentimentalism. This film is shockingly manipulative and paints a condescending picture of the problems facing mentally vulnerable people. The core of the story – Sam's struggle to get his daughter back despite his disability – shamelessly mimics two far superior Hoffman vehicles. When Sam is put on the stand at trial, he quotes from ‘Kramer Versus Kramer' in a mawkish take on Hoffman's ‘Rainman' delivery. Throughout Penn overplays and his open-mouthed vacancy and hand-wringing slurs are an insult to people who suffer with mental disability.
While Pfeiffer is cool and sassy as the top brass lawyer, it's unbelievable that her character would take this case for free or that she resolves her personal strife thanks to Sam. Dakota Fanning is cuter than cute and scarily precocious as the doe-eyed daddy's girl. The soundtrack features a variety of contemporary artists doing their worst at below-average Beatles covers. Sam's close circle of friends (who share his mentally-challenged state) are the butt of many jokes and stereotyped in a nauseating way. The story itself is implausible dross which of course ends in everyone's favour except the bad guys (ie the judge, social workers, child authorities). Everything about ‘I Am Sam' is predictable except the unexpectedly crass un-PC portrayal of mental disability. Even if you liked ‘Rainman', save yourself the cinema admission and donate it to a relevant charity.