I Am Sam Reviews
Watched this on 13/11/14
Sean Penn provides his career best performance and you cannot see a better way in which an autistic character can be portrayed on cinema. Michelle Pfeiffer also provides an excellent work and Dakota Fanning is adorable. The film is well directed, but at times it(the script) seems unrealistic. You can make a film about such a sensitive issue and cover it all up in melodrama and you can provide an ending that one might believe to be most realistic, but isn't it what most films do? wouldn't that be a cliche? But unfortunately the critics do not understand it and most of them isn't even convinced of Penn's acting. It is easy to criticize because people who have nothing to do can do it easily, but the real pain is always there in the making of it. This movie has an ending that we all want to see and it presents that in a most realistic way that the script is capable of providing.
I Am Sam is a film which is bound to be controversial. It deals with the subject matter of someone with a developmental disability in the position of being an adoptive father at the centre of a custody dispute. It is clearly a massive ploy for sentimentality. The film seems largely to be some kind of attempt at Oscar-bait which only worked thanks to Sean Penn's performance. In the rest of it, there is an abundance of sentimentality which really just overwhelms the entire film and its best intentions.
The characters in I Am Sam all end up being archetypes. The protagonist is a mentally challenged father whose mother was a homeless woman who left her child with him, his daughter is the adopted child of a mentally disabled man, his lawyer is a cold hearted woman taking on a case pro-bono for once while dealing with being a mother and the wife in a poor marriage, his neighbour is a kind elderly woman with agoraphobia , his opposition is a woman whose son suffered from a drug overdose and a lawyer who has to reluctantly live with his mother in law, and one of his supporters is a woman who was raised by a mother with the intelligence of a 9 year old. The stereotypically sentimental characters just keep on coming with no end in sight. This becomes pretty ridiculous pretty fast, and the way that the story handles the subject matter ends up too problematic. It oversimplifies the basis of issues relating to mental disabilities and custody laws solely so that it can come off as a film which holds the message "A mentally disabled person is no different from another person." While the emphasis behind protagonist Samuel Johnson "Sam" Dawson being a great person and a capable father are true, it overlooks just how complicated the entire case is. I Am Sam ends up seeming like a film that is aimed at children as it plays it safe with so much of its edgy subject matter. It may be good for children to see it and understand that mentally handicapped people really are people too just like you and me, but in terms of how it depicts the legal system, it is just not right. The film gets really predictable really fast and is so packed with subplots and other characters that it just all piles up on itself.
The pacing of the film is all a big rush. So many plot dynamics are crammed to fit into the first 30 minutes of the film that by the point of it being a quarter through, we've already seen Samuel Johnson "Sam" Dawson pick up Lucy Diamond Dawson after she is born, father her until age 7 and then lose custody of her. It pushes through so many plot dynamics at such rapid pace that it becomes more overwhelming than it already is. It doesn't add much to the atmosphere which is already experiencing problems due to trouble establishing the right mood.
I Am Sam is a film which clearly intends to be very melodramatic and very sentimental at the same time. But the central problem is the fact that the atmosphere ends up being a bit too light for its own good half the time and really depressing the other half. The mood is truly bipolar because it is too light some times and then very heavy the next without much consistency. There are consistently problems with the soundtrack since the drama in the film is unable to develop on its own and must be pushed along by a lot of lighthearted or depressing songs.
Jessie Nelson's directional style is really amateur, and that is the source of a lot of problems. Her script is poor and she cannot do anything with it but try desperately to make viewers cry. Those who do not get sucked into the cheap tearjerking elements of the story will much more likely simply sit in front of the screen fazed by the lack of proper thought put into the story. Not to mention the fact that visually the entire film is rather stiff due to shaky cinematography that suggests the film is in the style of a mockumentary. The editing is also poor. There is one moment where Sean Penn delivers multiple monologues in the courtroom and the editing just keeps cutting to different angles of his face for some reason. All it does is stun viewers and distract them from the narrative. I just cannot figure out a good reason for it being there. It's hard to figure out why so much of I Am Sam is all in the one film, and the viewer has to sit through it for 134 minutes to experience the entire movie. It really is just a movie in poor form, and it even has pretty obvious product placements which would point out where a lot of the financing came from.
The only element of I Am Sam which is really justifiable to recommend to anyone is the stellar efforts of the cast, in particular the leading performance of Sean Penn.
The performance of Sean Penn is truly a powerful one. Despite the fact that his effort is surrounded by an overly sentimental script and plot dynamics which fail to really get into depth about the character outside of the repetitive references to The Beatles, Sean Penn really does a fine job conveying the developmental disability in the role with painful accuracy. It is very easy to sympathise with Sean Penn because he is truly a talented actor when it comes to playing the character both as the human being he is, the mentally disabled person and the father. He puts many dimensions into the part without ever transcending the realistic limitations of a human being with a serious developmental disorder. His performance is incredibly realistic with his inabilities being emphasized yet not making up most of the elements of the character. Sean Penn's performance is alarmingly accurate with his tone of voice, line delivery and physical movements all being strongly characteristic of a mentally troubled human being. His performance anchors the film really well and gives it a sense of heart, even if the rest of the film smothers his performance beneath inexperience far from his standard of talent.
Michelle Pfeiffer is also a powerful character. Although her character also incurs an excess of melodramatic repetition in the story, as the story progresses she is given material which is slightly more flexible and she gradually puts stronger emotional spirit into the part. She has a really hard exterior in I Am Sam which gradually breaks down more and more as viewers get a sight of what she is feeling. Her chemistry with Sean Penn is consistently strong as well, so it is good to see Michelle Pfeiffer active again as an actress after a brief period of inactivity.
Dakota Fanning's screen time is really too minimal because her performance in I Am Sam is deserving of serious praise. As she has proved many times, Dakota Fanning has the ability to command the screen whenever she is on it and do it in a manner which is really convincing, and that is important in a film as artificial as I Am Sam. Dakota Fanning is full of youthful charisma and natural charm in her part where she shares some powerful moments with Sean Penn, and she shows a lot of sophisticated acting talent for a girl her age. Dakota Fanning delivers a wonderful supporting effort in I Am Sam.
But despite the power of the cast led by Sean Penn's excellent portrayal, I Am Sam is overly sentimental in handling its subject matter with misguided direction and a heavily stereotypical script which degrades the serious nature of the film's subject matter.