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I am Sam

Description of Film:  Jessie Nelson (Corrina, Corrina) directs this heartwarming, poignant film about Sam Dawson (Sean Penn, Mystic River), a forty-year-old, mentally handicapped man with autistic tendencies.  After having a one-night stand with a woman, Sam becomes the single father of a little girl (Dakota Fanning, Man on Fire).  (The girl is named Lucy Diamond Dawson, after the Beatles’ song.)  The woman abandons the two immediately after the girl’s birth and disappears.  Thus, Sam is left to raise Lucy by himself.  He is helped by his close-knit group of friends and his neighbor, an agoraphobic woman played by Dianne Wiest (Practical Magic).  Lucy is happy, healthy and doing beautifully, even though she is being raised outside of the norm.  However, when she turns seven, she starts to surpass her father’s mental capacity.  To avoid hurting her father, Lucy decides to hold herself back in school.  That’s when Social Services gets involved; they remove Lucy from her father’s care.  Sam finds Rita Harrison (Michelle Pfeiffer, White Oleander) a high-powered, self-absorbed and egocentric attorney, and asks her to take his case on a pro-bono basis.  She agrees to do it after being challenged by her colleagues.  Together, the two fight a system that does not want to reward a handicapped man with the custody of his daughter. Harrison has her own family problems, having alienated her own son through her workaholic tendencies.  But she learns things from Sam, who, unlike most people, is not intimidated by her and her fast-talking.  Even though she takes the case for the wrong reasons, she is ultimately touched by Sam’s life; it has a great impact on her and her relationship with her son.

Laura Dern (Happy Endings,) plays Lucy’s foster mother.  Richard Schiff (The West Wing) rounds out the cast as the sharp public attorney who opposes Rita.  Incidentally, the cast also includes two actors, Joseph Rosenberg and Brad Allan Silverman, who have disabilities.  They are part of Sam’s group of close-knit friends who help him with Lucy and his case. 

Sean Penn was nominated for an Academy Award for his excellent portrayal.  The film is rated PG - 13.

Why I Recommend This Film:  I think this movie offers a poignant look into a very real issue - - how society treats people with disabilities.  Sean Penn is amazing as Sam Dawson, a hard character to portray.  Dakota Fanning is exceedingly compelling as the precocious Lucy.  Pfeiffer’s performance as the power-tripped-lawyer-turned-humanitarian proves to be one of her best. 

Why This Film is Important:  Historically, people with disabilities are people that society, as a whole, does not want to deal with.  This is especially true about people with mental disabilities.  It is important to have a film that deals with the discrimination that a person with disabilities can face, particularly when it deals with issues as important as family and parenthood.  This movie is about the love of a family and the things you can learn from people who are different from yourself when you open up and let other people in.

Favorite Quotation:

Lucy:  “All you need is love.”
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