½*/**** Image A Sound A Extras B
starring Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dakota Fanning, Doug Hutchison
screenplay by Kristine Johnson & Jessie Nelson
directed by Jessie Nelson
by Walter Chaw I Am Sam's premise is a strange one: a mentally retarded* man (titular Sam, played by Sean Penn) impregnates a homeless woman he has invited to stay with him. After giving birth to the impossibly precocious Lucy (Dakota Fanning), the vagrant mom vamooses ("I never wanted this! I just wanted a place to sleep!"), leaving Sam solely responsible for the raising of the child. With the help of eccentric piano-playing recluse Dianne Wiest (perhaps fulfilling a bizarre ambition to play Madame Sousatzka), Sam learns an infant's feeding schedule (by timing it to late-night Nickelodeon programming), shops for diapers, and realizes that he needs to find daycare if he wants to keep his job tidying sugar cosies at the local Starbucks. (Feel-good, politically-correct bullshit being a saltlick for corporate sponsors, Starbucks, International House of Pancakes, Target, and Pizza Hut all helped fund I Am Sam.) When Child Services finally collects Lucy into protective custody on her seventh birthday, Sam gets frosty type-A lawyer Rita (Michelle Pfeiffer) to take on his cause pro bono. In the process, of course, Sam's infectious goodness teaches Rita, and us, a little about what's really important in life.