"I Am Sam"

"I am Sam" takes a close look at what it takes to raise a child.
"I Am Sam" tells the story of Sam Dawson, a man who has not developed mentally past the age of seven. He fathers a child with a homeless woman who used his apartment as a flophouse. After the birth of their daughter, the mother disappears into the urban landscape, never to be seen again.

"I Am Sam" tells the story of Sam Dawson, a man who has not developed mentally past the age of seven. He fathers a child with a homeless woman who used his apartment as a flophouse.  After the birth of their daughter, the mother disappears into the urban landscape, never to be seen again.

Sam struggles to raise Lucy with the aid of his neighbor, a reclusive piano teacher named Annie.  But trouble comes when Sam is arrested for soliciting a prostitute. 

It's improbable that the police would arrest mentally-impaired Sam for merely talking to a prostitute. But the movie needs a catalyst to send the story to court, and the run-in with the prostitute gets the job done. A consequence is that the court takes Lucy away from Sam.

Enter Rita Harrison, a high-powered lawyer who is so self-absorbed that she neglects her husband and son. If this sounds like a TV movie, that's because it virtually is. Following the formula, Sam winds up in court fighting to get Lucy away from foster care.

"I Am Sam" is sweet movie. Yet it presents us with so many ambiguous issues that we do not know for whom or for what to root. 

Does Lucy need to be raised by a father who is intellectually inferior?  What is so wrong with her being placed in a foster home where she is loved? Is the prosecuting attorney right to say that he sees a revolving door in Lucy's future? These are real questions that deserve real answers.

The movie raises other issues, such as the nature of perfection. In an exchange between Sam and Rita, Sam declares that Rita was born perfect. Rita breaks down and declares that she is not perfect, but that her husband is having an affair with a woman who is perfect. 

The movie also examines what it takes to raise a child. "I Am Sam" suggests it takes a village, even a village idiot.

But something's missing here. Can Sam, in fact, raise Lucy?  Where does Lucy get help in the long term?  "I Am Sam" does little to address this important issue and suffers because of it.

It doesn't matter that Sam lives a life guided by the philosophical teachings of Lennon and McCartney. For example, he names his daughter Lucy Diamonds Dawson, a name taken from the Beatle's song, "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds."

Film critic Roger Ebert said "I Am Sam" wants to teach us that "All You Need is Love" (another Beatles hit). The problem with the movie, however, is that this core belief is lodged in a story that makes us wonder if love will be enough.

Mike Parnell is pastor of Burgaw Baptist Church in Burgaw, N.C.

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language    

Director:  Jessie Nelson

Cast: Sam Dawson: Sean Penn; Lucy Dawson: Dakota Fanning; Annie: Dianne Wiest; Rita Harrison: Michelle Pfeiffer; Ifty: Doug Hutchinson 

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