I Am Sam [2001]

Genre: Drama
I Am Sam makes you laugh, cry, and recoil all at the same time. Perhaps no other film of recent memory has epitomized the shameless sentimentality of Hollywood as succinctly as director and screenwriter Jessie Nelson's story of a mentally challenged man fighting to retain custody of his 7-year-old daughter. Sam (Sean Penn), who has the mental age of 7, wipes down tables at a Los Angeles Starbucks and takes good care of his daughter Lucy, who was left with him shortly after birth by a homeless woman. Sam has gotten by just fine with a little help from his friends, including his eccentric neighbor (Diane Wiest) and a lovable group of similarly challenged friends, but a series of misunderstandings leaves Sam fighting to get Lucy back from the state. Sam's lawyer, Rita Harrison (Michelle Pfeiffer), is an overly ambitious woman whose life is soon transformed by proximity to Sam's brimming humanity. Sean Penn is, as usual, wholeheartedly committed to his role and turns in an admirable, if overtly affected performance. However, I Am Sam, with all its earnest charm, reaches an emblematic low when Sam, a character apparently devoid of any authentic sentiment, delivers a courtroom speech memorized from Kramer vs. Kramer as the film's finale. --Fionn Meade

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