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Monday, 25 December 2017

Retro Review: I Am Sam (2001)

I Am Sam
2001
Cast: Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dakota Fanning, Dianne Wiest, Loretta Devine, Laura Dern, Mary Steenbergen
Genre: Drama
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $97 million 

Plot: A mentally handicapped man fights for custody of his 7-year-old daughter and in the process teaches his cold-hearted lawyer the value of love and family





'Adequate To Good Performances Brought Down By A Not Very Gripping & Engrossing Story'

I Am Sam reminds me of a combination of Kramer vs Kramer meets Rain Man meets Erin Brockovich. It's part-human interest story, part- legal drama. There is even a reference made to Kramer vs Kramer in one scene. I am Sam is a film that should have turned out far better and it feels as the writer-director Jessie Nelson, whose previous works include Stepmom and The Story of Us -, dropped the ball. Needless to say, it is a story which doesn't do enough to engage the audience and maintain its or be it my attention. 

7 years after Corina, Corina starring Whoopi Goldberg and Ray Liotta, Nelson once again tackles the single dad raising their child dilemma with elements that look like they were seemingly borrowed from Rain Man & Kramer vs Kramer. But this time around, she throws disability into the mix and the film assumes that a mentally-challenged/handicapped person is just as capable of raising their child as a non-handicapped person. Which I have no issue with, but the way this is conceived and presented onscreen just didn't feel as 'rewarding', if that is a good term to use, as it makes itself out to be. 

Sam is an employee at Starbucks who arrives at the hospital after his girlfriend, Rebecca gives birth to their daughter, Lucy. Minutes later, Rebecca abandons Lucy and Sam is left to raise and look after her. But then alarm bells ring when Sam faces the possibility of losing custody to Lucy and when it happens, when she is taken away from child services, Sam turns to hard-nosed lawyer Rita, in order to win her back. 

Yes, I realise this film has been trashed for being too cloying and clingy in its treatment of Sam's story and mental condition. & yes, this film is problematic and littered with problems in certain areas. 

For me, the issue here was not that it was too sentimental and treacly, but that the story, the narrative wasn't completely entertaining and interesting enough and that it never goes far enough to the very depths that Barry Levinson's Rain Man went to, especially in terms of characterisation. Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise pulled it out of the bag due to the well-written script & depth of their characters in Raymond and Charlie Babbitt that doesn't descend into over-sentimentality; Sean Penn and Michelle Pfieffer on the other hand, just didn't manage to. At times, it was tame, nothing much happened and profound moments were almost nowhere to be found. Though she was hailed as the best star of the film, young Dakota Fanning's turn wasn't anything that was special, to me. Both Pfieffer, Penn and Laura Dern literally try their best to bring some quality to enhance the script. The wholly spiritless feel the film evokes truly brought down their talents, and it just didn't make those performances standout, more noteworthy and memorable as they ought to have been. Penn's Sam is like a cross between Robert De Niro in Awakenings and Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. Despite her hard-edged persona, Pfieffer's Rita just wasn't quite as believable as I'd anticipated, and again, this is due to the material she had at her disposal. Her character also lacked personality and sufficient genuine apathy that she needed for me to fully like her. I also had a hard time connecting with the film and it needed more to make it more substantial.   

I Am Sam tries to do certain things and cover certain ground regarding the themes of disability, parentage, what makes a good parent and it tries to be a drama that attempts to be all these things; sadly, I felt that Jessie Nelson squandered any or be it all opportunities to make this crystal clear to the audience and to give us a really charismatic, lively and entertaining movie that only informs, but entertains as well. That and when it goes down the preachy route, it is a tad too much.

Sean Penn & Michelle Pfieffer needed a better screenplay to go along with a meaningful premise as this. Yet I Am Sam just wasn't the movie to provide that.







Final Verdict
:


I Am Sam had its moments, but there were only so few of them and the story itself just wasn't engrossing and interesting as it should have been. I liked the performances, but the film itself wasn't great. The movie was virtually dependent on Sean Penn's performance, and by taking away the turns by Penn and Pfeiffer, who was okay at best, and she did better in many of her other films, I Am Sam would have little going for it. 


Still, it was a disappointing movie that not only comes across as run-of-the-mill but entertainment-wise, it didn't deliver. 

It's no wonder that Rain Man succeeded and in watching I Am Sam, didn't. 



Overall



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