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I Am Sam

Year: 2001
Studio: New Line Cinema
Director: Jessie Nelson
Producer: Jessie Nelson
Writer: Jessie Nelson/Kristine Johnson
Cast: Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer, Laura Dern, Richard Schiff, Dianne Wiest, Dakota Fanning

This movie was an interesting project for an actor of Sean Penn's calibre. While it gave one of the best actors alive today a huge amount of elbow room to give life to a wonderful role, the family values and TV movie drama was far less cutting edge that the stuff he's done recently.

That's not to say it wasn't enjoyable. It asks the simple questions of whether an adult deemed mentally ill should be given care and responsibility of a child just because he loves her, considering she's at an age where she's becoming smarter than him?

Taking cues from Rain Man's Raymond, Penn is almost perfect as Sam, the mentally disabled father who dotes endlessly on his gorgeous seven year old (Fanning). By contrast, lawyer Rita (Pfeiffer), seen as a model citizen and parent by society because of her high-powered lifestyle and career prestige, hardly even knows her own son.

But family services have Lucy taken away from Sam, and to prove she isn't a soulless legal shark, Rita takes his case for free to try to get Lucy back. The emotional curve is expected; it's as much the story of Rita realising what's most important as it is Sam's struggle to get Lucy back, and strong support is given by some honest performances by Laura Dern, Richard Schiff and Dianne Wiest.

Heartfelt comedy - particularly at Sam's little circle of similarly maligned but lovable friends - sits side by side with the heartache of a perfect family torn in half. It's obvious which side of the debate director Nelson takes (even the tagline is 'Love is all you need'), instead of providing convincing cases for both arguments, and while it's as much an emotional manipulation thanks to the endlessly lovable Sam, it will make you think a bit and every character engages you until you really care about them - including Pfeiffer's Rita, ho looked like she was going to be a very two dimensional, typical movie lawyer, but is instead fleshed out with maturity and charm.

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