Making the Grades
SAM DAWSON (SEAN PENN) LIVES with a moderate learning disability that prevents him from progressing past a job of clearing tables and sorting sugar packages at Starbucks. However, it doesn't stop him from fathering a child after the softhearted man offeres a homeless woman a place to sleep. His obsession with everything Beatles results in the moniker Lucy Diamond Dawson (Dakota Fanning) for his infant daughter. With a little help from his friends (who have similar mental challenges) along with advice from a sweet middle-aged woman in another apartment, Sam manages to keep his daughter fed and clothed.
In a few movie minutes, little Lucy grows from infant to an intelligent, precocious girl, who faces ridicule from friends at school because of Dad's childlike behaviors. With her mental capabilities passing Sam's, Lucy becomes a ward of the courts after child welfare authorities decide he is an unfit father
Heartbroken, Sam manages to stumble into the opulent office of lawyer Rita Harrison (Michelle Pfeiffer). Her immediate aversion to working with Sam is tempered after facing criticism from colleagues for her reluctance to help someone for free. However, as this over-achieving mother deals with her pro bono client, she discovers some valuable lessons, allowing her to put her whole heart into Sam's defense.
An obvious plea to audiences to reconsider the rights of mentally challenged individuals, I Am Sam's arguments and performances often fall short of convincing. Certainly Penn's character consistently portrays his capacity to love, but the script allows the fictitious Sam moments of incredible insight at the most convenient times. Conversely, Pfeiffer's forced and unbelievable portrayal of what is supposed to be a successful family law attorney, leaves her babbling lines of stupidity at the most ridiculous times.
But performances, audience manipulation, and profanities aside, watching over two hours of cinema shot on a hand held camera left me a shade similar to the oft-repeated allegorical readings of Dr. Seuss's Green Eggs and Ham. Hardly a film your children will be begging to see, I Am Sam's filmmaking disabilities handicap the premise.