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

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Ronald Epstein, May 16, 2002.

  1. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Administrator

    Jul 3, 1997
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    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
  2. Jon Robertson

    Jon Robertson Screenwriter

    May 19, 2001
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    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." [​IMG]
  3. AndyDL

    AndyDL Stunt Coordinator

    Jul 10, 2001
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    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) [​IMG]
    Thanks for the review, Ron!
  4. Michael St. Clair

    May 3, 1999
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    I thought The Beatles weren't allowing the original versions to be used in movies?
  5. ChrisMatson

    ChrisMatson Cinematographer

    Dec 14, 2000
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    From Ron's review:
  6. Michael St. Clair

    May 3, 1999
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    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.
  7. Daniel J

    Daniel J Stunt Coordinator

    May 8, 2001
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    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?)
  8. Jesse Clift

    Jesse Clift Agent

    Jul 30, 2000
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    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. [​IMG]
  9. Joel Vardy

    Joel Vardy Supporting Actor

    Oct 20, 1998
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    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'.

  10. Brett_B

    Brett_B Supporting Actor

    Oct 26, 1999
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    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.
  11. Stephen Orr

    Stephen Orr Screenwriter

    Mar 14, 1999
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    The shaky cam documentary style made me motion-sick.... I kept wonder, couldn't they afford tripods?
  12. Julian Lalor

    Julian Lalor Supporting Actor

    Oct 5, 1999
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  13. James+CB

    James+CB Auditioning

    Jul 1, 2002
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    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.
  14. SteveGon

    SteveGon Executive Producer

    Dec 11, 2000
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