I Am Sam (2001)



Critic Consensus: Not only does the manipulative I Am Sam oversimplify a complex issue, it drowns it in treacle.

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Movie Info

Sam Dawson is a mentally challenged father raising his daughter Lucy with the help of an extraordinary group of friends. As Lucy turns seven and begins to intellectually surpass her father, their close bond is threatened when their situation comes under the scrutiny of a social worker who wants Lucy placed in foster care. Faced with a seemingly unwinnable case, Sam vows to fight the legal system and forms an unlikely alliance with Rita Harrison, a high-powered, self-absorbed attorney who initially takes his case pro bona as a challenge from her colleagues. On the surface the two couldn't be further apart, but in reality they are subtly similar. Sam's compulsive nature is mirrored in Rita's more socially acceptable obsessive-compulsive nature. Together they struggle to convince the system that Sam deserves to get his daughter back and, in the process, fuse a bond that results in a unique testament to the power of unconditional love.
PG-13 (for language)
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Sean Penn
as Sam Dawson
Michelle Pfeiffer
as Rita Harrison
Dakota Fanning
as Lucy Dawson
Loretta Devine
as Margaret Calgrove
Laura Dern
as Randy Carpenter
Ken Jenkins
as Judge McNeily
Wendy Phillips
as Miss Wright
Mason Lucerno
as Conner Rhodes
Scott Paulin
as Duncan Rhodes
Bobby Cooper
as George
Kit McDonough
as Ms. Davis
Michael B. Silver
as Dr. Jaslow
Eileen Ryan
as Estelle
Mary Steenburgen
as Dr. Blake
Marin Hinkle
as Patricia
Brent Spiner
as Shoe Salesman
Kathleen Robertson
as Big Boy Waitress
Karen Bankhead
as Rita's Colleague
Janet Adderley
as Obnoxious Mom
Katie McGloin
as Cristina
David Poynter
as Cafeteria Worker
R.D. Call
as Cop at Park
John Paizis
as Starbucks Father
Russ Fega
as Starbucks Angry Man
Erinn Seaghda Rive Goletz
as Starbucks Barrister
Julie Claire
as Starbucks Customer
Marnie Martin
as Starbucks Woman
Tony Abatemarco
as Court Clerk
Will Wallace
as Bill Carpenter
Scott Weintraub
as Scarecrow
Nicholas Mele
as Booking Cop
Molly Gordon
as Callie
Allison Thormahlen
as Infant Lucy
Jillian Thormahlen
as Infant Lucy
Ryan Williams
as 6-Month-Old Lucy
Felicity Ann Forbes
as 18-Month-Old Lucy
Makindra Sherry Forbes
as 18-Month-Old Lucy
Elle Fanning
as 34-Month-Old Lucy
Amanda Lehaf
as 4-Year-Old Lucy
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Critic Reviews for I Am Sam

All Critics (143) | Top Critics (38)

Penn repeatedly hits the ball out of the park, but the rest of the team never gets past first base.

Full Review… | November 6, 2002
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Top Critic

It's a sensational performance, and [Penn] illumines a movie that sometimes seems in danger of descending into modish Hollywood political correctness.

July 20, 2002
Chicago Tribune
Top Critic

On one level, I Am Sam is a crock, but on another, more vital one, it's very, very sweet.

Full Review… | March 22, 2002
Top Critic

Plays out in such a conventional manner that it feels like a TV movie of the week from the '70s.

March 4, 2002
Arizona Republic
Top Critic

For a movie that probes the sensitive issue of living with reduced mental capacity, are the creators of Bambi the obvious choice?

January 25, 2002
Washington Post
Top Critic

A well-intentioned but ludicrous tale.

January 25, 2002
Washington Post
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for I Am Sam

This film, upon its release reeked of Oscar bait. Ten years later, that smell still lingers. I mean, how could it not? It's about a well meaning developmentally disabled man struggling to reclaim custody of his daughter, and prove that he is capable of raising her, even though she is smarter than him. Here's the thing: I'm not an ogre, and I do have a soul. I recognize that this film is sweet, well meaning, and very charming. It has nothing but good intentions. However, this film tries a bit too hard, and is too reliant on cliches and formula. The references to Kramer Vs. Kramer were a nice litle touch, though. Yeah, this film is heartwarming, and inspiring, but it's overbearing, and it is a feel-good movie to the extent that none of it is really earned. I feel like the film went to a route that was expected and that it did so just because the filmmakers felt levity over reality would be better. Sometimes I'm okay with that, but in this case, I just couldn't get onboard. I do like the performances though. The cast is likeable, and they all put a lot of effort into things, but, like the film overall, they try to hard, hence why Sean Penn got a nomination, but went home empty-handed. He took it too far. His performance isn't offensive, and it is sensitive, but he could have made an effort to dial it down because a little goes a long way. I'm ripping on this movie, but I don't totally hate it. I liked the soundtrack, and the idea to use nothing but Beatles songs was very inspired. Using the originals would have been better, but these are some good covers, so it's okay. You can go out and see this if you want, but don't expect it to be a completely satisfying experience, even though there are some good moments to be found.

Chris Weber
Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

Check it out. Dustin Hoffman, 'Rain Man,' look retarded, act retarded, not retarded. Counted toothpicks, cheated cards. Autistic, sho'. Not retarded. You know Tom Hanks, 'Forrest Gump.' Slow, yes. Retarded, maybe. Braces on his legs. But he charmed the pants off Nixon and won a ping-pong competition. That ain't retarded. He was a god damn war hero, do you know any retarded war hero's?

Joe McCall
Joe McCall

Super Reviewer


I Am Sam presents great actings of the cast and bring a cute, confused and nice story. But the strong sentimentalism, don't save the film. Rotten.

Lucas Martins
Lucas Martins

Super Reviewer

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