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HTF REVIEW: "I Am Sam" (with screenshots) (1 Viewer)

Ronald Epstein

Senior HTF Member
Jul 3, 1997
Real Name
Ronald Epstein

I Am Sam

Studio: New Line Home Entertainment
Year: 2001
Rated: PG-13
Film Length: 129 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1)

love is all you need

I am Sam is a mildly touching, way too long
film about mental retardation and parenthood.
Bad boy Sean Penn is amazingly convincing as mentally
challenged Sam Dawson, a man with the intellectual
capacity of a seven year old. By day, he holds
down a job at the local Starbucks -- at night he
fathers a perfectly normal and adorable girl named,
Lucy Diamond, through a chance encounter with a
homeless woman. Lucy was named after the Beatles
song as Penn's philosophy on life revolves around
the group, as he continually quotes Beatles lyrics
and tells anecdotes about the band.

By the time Lucy is seven, her intellect begins
to pass his, raising the attention of a social
worker who decides that she would be better off
with foster parents. Enter Rita (surprise - another
Beatles tune song), a lawyer played by Michelle
Pfeiffer, who at first unwillingly agrees to take
Sam's case pro bono, helping him retain custodian
rights for his daughter.
The balance of the movie shows Sam fighting for
his daughter. Rita fighting for her soul. And Lucy
running away from her foster parents to be with
her father.

It seems that if an actor needs an extra added
push towards an Oscar nomination, the best bet
is to find a role portraying an individual with
learning disabilities. After all, its these kind
of portrayals that usually hit an emotional chord
with movie audiences.

The problem is, I am Sam never tugs at
that emotional chord. While Penn is absolutely
fantastic as an emotionally disturbed man, I found
myself just as disturbed that I really didn't
believe anything that is happening on the screen.
There's almost a lack of depth to Penn's character.
character's lack of depth. Perhaps if we had seen his
childhood, his relationship with his mother, or the
relationship with Lucy's mother we would have been
more sympathetic to his character. In addition, this
film showcases the one awful performance of Pfeiffer's
career. It was a film difficult to sit through, and
just when you're fooled into thinking the movie is
about to end, it comes back for more.
How is the transfer?
The transfer is full of deep rich colors, mostly
with blues and red dominating the palette. The
transfer looks wonderfully sharp and clean with
a hint of video noise that can be seen in the film's
darker sequences. This was one of those rare
times that I noticed a lot of emphasis in the blacks
which look quite excellent. Flesh tones are also
dead-on accurate. Overall, you can't go wrong
with this transfer.
Usually one would think that a 5.1 DTS audio is
almost wasted on a film that isn't heavy on action.
I was quite pleased by the robustness of the film
score and Beatles songs that were enhanced and
supported by the rear speakers. There is also
great use of effects with the ambient noise of
the city always present in the background. This
is a superb sound mix that is quite un ordinary
for this type of film.
Special Features
I am Sam is being released as part of the
highly touted New Line Platinum Series and features
an abundant amount of added material.

The DVD begins with a cute little animated
menu sequence that involves folding origami.
There is a full-length Audio Commentary by
Director/Co-Screenwriter Jessie Nelson.

An original documentary, Becoming Sam
is a rather lengthy but interesting look at the
process of bringing this film to the screen. Inspired
by writers who were Mothers themselves, and
through research done with Social workers, this
film gives a very accurate portrayal of mentally
challenged individuals who become parents. The
writers went through 2 months of research at a
Los Angeles handicap center, which they found to
be warmly inspiring. Director Jessie Nelson always
had Sean Penn in mind for the role of Sam. Sean
Penn recalls meeting her in Italy, agreeing to play
the lead role as he was so drawn by the dynamics of
the script. Michelle Pfeiffer also recalls how
she was inspired by the script and film's family
values. We get to meet the wonderful young actress,
Dakota Fanning, who played Lucy. Watching a piece
of her screen test here gives you no doubt as to
why she was selected for the role. Being raised
around an Aunt who was also mentally challenged,
Dakota knew exactly how to approach this part.
We are slowly introduced to the actors that
portrayed Sam's close group of mentally handicapped
friends. The roles were played by two actors as
well as two actual handicapped individuals, Brad
Allan Silverman and Joseph Rosenberg. The
documentary turns to the costume Designs and the
lensing of the film, which includes a thorough
explanation on the choice of colors used in the
film. One of my favorite parts of this documentary
involves the discussion of the film's soundtrack
that is comprised of Beatles songs. The choice to
use Beatles music was ultimately selected by the
members of Los Angeles's handicap center. Obtaining
rights to use the original versions of these songs
would have cost as much as making the film itself.
For that reason, covers of Beatles songs were used.
We meet some of the artists whose cover material is
presented on the film's soundtrack.
(length: Approximately 42 minutes)
There is about 10 minutes of deleted and
alternate scenes presented on this DVD. You
have the opportunity to watch these scenes with
or without accompanying commentary by Director
Jessie Nelson. There's a tense initial scene
between Sam and Rita in an elevator; Lucy opening
a birthday present from her father; Sam, shortly
after losing Lucy, snapping at a customer at
Starbucks; some improvisations between Sam and
Lucy where Sean faithfully remains in character;
An improvised scene where Sam is talking to his
herd of dogs.
Most of the deleted footage is quite interesting
to watch, mostly for the improvised talents of
Sean Penn. You can see, however, how these scenes
would have greatly slowed down the pacing of the
A Theatrical Press Kit takes us through
text notes on the Production of the film,
as well as giving us a Cast Filmography and
Filmmaker Biography.
The film's original theatrical trailer is
also included.
Final Thoughts

How do you rate a first rate DVD presentation
by New Line of a nearly second rate film? I
think that most people will be a little
under whelmed by I am Sam. Instead of
being a film that becomes emotionally touching,
it plays more like the ABC film of the week.
I kept waiting for something of merit to happen --
but unfortunately, it doesn't.
Release Date: June 18, 2002

Jon Robertson

May 19, 2001
Great review, Ron.
One of my favourite quotes from all the reviews that panned it here in the UK was "Sean Penn delivers a tour-de-force impression of somebody making fun of a mentally disabled person." :D


Stunt Coordinator
Jul 10, 2001
I seem to be a part of the very few who enjoyed this film.
Performances by Sean Penn and young Dakota Fanning were excellent.
And the music is great too. (All Beatles remakes) :emoji_thumbsup:
Thanks for the review, Ron!

Michael St. Clair

Senior HTF Member
May 3, 1999
I saw that in Ron's post, but I heard otherwise on the radio (twice); that original recordings of Beatles songs are actually not currently available for feature films at any price.

Daniel J

Stunt Coordinator
May 8, 2001
All right, someone has to ask...

How does this film compare to Rain Man? (In terms of acting, plot, etc. -Does this film give you more or less to sit down and think about?)

Jesse Clift

Jul 30, 2000
I thoroughly enjoyed this film. Having some experience working with adults having developmental disabilities in the past, I found Sean Penn's performance incredible and the story very touching. Few people ever have the chance to develop a personal relationship with someone with a developmental disability. For myself, I think that having such relationships really helped me connect on an emotional level with this film. While I feel differently about the film than Ron did, I am very pleased to hear we will be getting a great transfer and DTS track. :emoji_thumbsup:

Joel Vardy

Supporting Actor
Oct 20, 1998
I watched this film last night with my wife and found it better than expected. Sean Penn is very strong (as usual) and unlike the other reviews I read here I think the ensemble cast did an admirable job, including Michelle Pfeiffer. Perhaps this is a reaction to what many here would consider a 'chick flick' -- character-driven with dialogue rather than special effects with loud explosions.

I may be in the minority about this film since I found it neither too long nor laborious in its treatment of the mentally challenged. I dare say it even was 'thought prevoking'.



Supporting Actor
Oct 26, 1999
I am so glad that I ignored everone else's opinion on this board and went to see the movie at the theater for myself. I actually thought that Sean Penn was robbed for the Oscar. Everyone that I recommended this movie to thought the same, and this was when everyone thought that Russell Crowe would get the Oscar for "A Beautiful Mind".

I am glad that I am my own critic.


Jul 1, 2002
My wife and I also thoroughly enjoyed this movies. It drew real feelings from each of us for the characters. Strong performancs by Sean, Dakota, and Michelle. To us you know it's good acting when you can forget that the characters ARE acting and become creditable real people. Not your normal dumb movie. Real issues. Meaningful plot. Great music. And plenty off laughs mixed in with the serious.

Super underrated movie.


Senior HTF Member
Dec 11, 2000
Real Name
Steve Gonzales
How do you rate a first rate DVD presentation
by New Line of a nearly second rate film?
Nearly second rate? Ron, you're too kind. :)
It's a rare occasion that I give up on a movie, but I did just that with i am sam. Yuck.
Nice disc, though.

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