I Am Sam

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I Am Sam
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJessie Nelson
Produced byJessie Nelson
Richard Solomon
Edward Zwick
Marshall Herskovitz
Written byKristine Johnson
Jessie Nelson
StarringSean Penn
Michelle Pfeiffer
Dianne Wiest
Dakota Fanning
Richard Schiff
Loretta Devine
Laura Dern
Music byJohn Powell
CinematographyElliot Davis
Edited byRichard Chew
Distributed byNew Line Cinema
Release date
  • December 28, 2001 (2001-12-28)
Running time
134 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$22 million[1]
Box office$97,818,139[2]

I Am Sam (stylized i am sam) is a 2001 American drama film written and directed by Jessie Nelson, and starring Sean Penn as a father with an intellectual disability, Dakota Fanning as his inquisitive daughter, and Michelle Pfeiffer as his lawyer. Dianne Wiest, Loretta Devine, Richard Schiff, and Laura Dern appear in supporting roles.

Jessie Nelson and Kristine Johnson, who co-wrote the screenplay, researched the issues facing adults with intellectual disabilities by visiting the non-profit organization L.A. GOAL (Greater Opportunities for the Advanced Living). They subsequently cast two actors with disabilities, Brad Silverman and Joe Rosenberg, in key roles.[3]

For his role as Sam, Penn was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor at the 74th Academy Awards in 2002.

The film launched the career of child actress Dakota Fanning, who was then seven years old and had only acted in two small roles. She became the youngest actress to be nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award.

The movie's title is derived from the opening lines "I am Sam / Sam I am" of the book Green Eggs and Ham, which is read in the movie.


Sam Dawson (Sean Penn), a man with an intellectual disability, is the single father of Lucy (Dakota Fanning), following their abandonment by her mother, who is revealed to be a homeless woman. Despite his disability, Sam is well-adjusted and has a supportive group of friends with disabilities, as well as a kind, agoraphobic neighbor Annie (Dianne Wiest) who takes care of Lucy when Sam cannot. Though Sam provides a loving place for precocious Lucy, she soon surpasses his mental ability.

Other children tease her for having a father that has mental problems, and she becomes too embarrassed to accept that she is more intellectually advanced than Sam. He gets advice of his friends, as well as hiring a lawyer, Rita Harrison (Michelle Pfeiffer), whose brusque manner, fast-paced schedule and difficult personal life have earned her a bad reputation. In an attempt to prove to others that she is not cold, Rita agrees to take on Sam's case pro bono. As they work together to secure Sam's rights, Sam helps Rita with her personal problems as well. This includes encouraging her to leave her philandering husband and repairing her fractious relationship with her son. She and Sam have a moment together when they reveal that they are never enough.

At the trial, Sam cries. After the trial, Lucy resides in a foster home with Randy Carpenter (Laura Dern), but tries to convince Sam to help her run away, and continually escapes in the middle of the night to go to Sam's apartment, (having learned from the failed attempt to run away) he immediately returns her. The foster family decides not to adopt her like they planned. They decide to give her back to Sam. When returning Lucy to Sam, Randy tells him that she will tell the judge that Sam is a better parent for Lucy. Sam asks Randy if she will help him raise her because he feels like he needs help, and Lucy needs another parent.

The final scene depicts a soccer game, in which Sam referees and in which Lucy participates as a player. In attendance are Lucy's former foster family, Sam's friendship group, and a newly single Rita with her son.


Critical reception[edit]

The film received mixed-to-negative reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, I Am Sam holds a rating of 35% based on 144 reviews, with the site's consensus saying: "Not only does the manipulative I Am Sam oversimplify a complex issue, it drowns it in treacle."[4] On Metacritic, the film got a score of 28% based on 33 reviews.[5]

The New York Times wrote that "I Am Sam is not a bad movie, and its intentions are unimpeachable. But its sentimentality is so relentless and its narrative so predictable that the life is very nearly squeezed out of it."[6] Variety wrote: "Undone by its best intentions, I Am Sam is an especially insipid example of the Hollywood message movie".[7] The Chicago Sun-Times wrote that "every device of the movie's art is designed to convince us Lucy must stay with Sam, but common sense makes it impossible to go the distance with the premise."[8] Roger Ebert also criticized the morality tale character of the movie, saying that "you can't have heroes and villains when the wrong side is making the best sense."[8]

On the other hand, the Los Angeles Times reviewed it positively as a "most inviting and accessible film that turns upon a mental condition that most people would prefer not to think about."[9] The San Francisco Chronicle commended Sean Penn for his performance: "Penn's accuracy, his lack of condescension or sentiment, and his willingness to inhabit his character without any implicit commentary take what might have been the equivalent of an inflated TV movie and elevate it to the level of art."[10] The New Yorker, however, found Michelle Pfeiffer to be the standout: "Pfeiffer, enormously likable in the role, almost saves the movie."[11]

Awards and honors[edit]

Sean Penn was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor (the Oscar), the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role, the Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor and the Satellite Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama.

Dakota Fanning won the Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Young Performer, the Las Vegas Film Critics Society Award for Youth in Film, the Phoenix Film Critics Society Award for Best Youth Actress, the Satellite Special Achievement Award for Outstanding New Talent, and the Young Artist Award for Best Performance in a Feature Film - Young Actress Age Ten or Under. She was also nominated for the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role.

The soundtrack was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media.

The film won the inaugural Stanley Kramer Award from the Producers Guild of America, and was nominated for the Humanitas Prize and the Japan Academy Prize for Outstanding Foreign Language Film.

Awarding Body Award Nominee Result
Academy Awards Best Actor Sean Penn Nominated
Broadcast Film Critics Association Best Actor Sean Penn Nominated
Best Young Performer Dakota Fanning Won
Grammy Awards Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media Nominated
Humanitas Prize Nominated
Japanese Academy Awards Outstanding Foreign Language Film Nominated
Las Vegas Film Critics Society Youth in Film Dakota Fanning Won
Producers Guild of America Stanley Kramer Award Jessie Nelson
Edward Zwick
Marshall Herskovitz
Richard Solomon
Phoenix Film Critics Society Phoenix Film Critics Society Award for Best Youth Actress Dakota Fanning Won
Satellite Awards Best Actor Sean Penn Nominated
Special Achievement Award for Outstanding New Talent Dakota Fanning Won
Screen Actors Guild Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role Sean Penn Nominated
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role Dakota Fanning Nominated
Young Artist Awards Best Family Feature Film - Drama Won
Best Performance in a Feature Film - Young Actress Age Ten or Under Dakota Fanning Won


The Grammy Award-nominated soundtrack, in addition to a John Powell score, also has cover versions of songs by the Beatles. Penn commissioned artists such as the Black Crowes, Nick Cave, Stereophonics, Eddie Vedder, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Rufus Wainwright, the Wallflowers, Ben Harper, the Vines and Ben Folds, to cover the songs for the soundtrack. Penn's brother, Michael Penn, is also featured on a duet with his wife Aimee Mann.

As the movie was shot and produced to the original Beatles music, the artists had to record their covers to the same musical timing (tempo) as that of the Beatles' original pieces.


I Am Sam (2001)
Main Aisa Hi Hoon (2005)
Deiva Thirumagal (2011)
Sean Penn Ajay Devgn Chiyaan Vikram
Michelle Pfeiffer Sushmita Sen Anushka Shetty


  1. ^ Box Office Information for I Am Sam. The Numbers. Retrieved October 17, 2014.
  2. ^ "I Am Sam (2001) - Box Office Mojo". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved November 19, 2010.
  3. ^ "Vedder, Crowes Cover Beatles for 'I Am Sam'". billboard.com. Retrieved 2009-12-27.
  4. ^ "I Am Sam Movie Reviews, Pictures". rottentomatoes.com. Retrieved 2009-12-27.
  5. ^ "I Am Sam reviews at Metacritic.com". metacritic.com. Retrieved 2009-12-27.
  6. ^ Scott, A. O. (December 28, 2001). "Movie Review - 'I Am Sam' - A Retarded Man Tries to Keep His Child". nytimes.com.
  7. ^ Koehler, Robert (December 20, 2001). "I Am Sam Review". variety.com.
  8. ^ a b Ebert, Roger (January 25, 2002). "I Am Sam :: rogerebert.com :: Reviews". rogerebert.suntimes.com.
  9. ^ Thomas, Kevin (December 28, 2001). "In 'I Am Sam,' Skillful Players Embrace a Heartfelt Family Tale". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 31, 2013.
  10. ^ LaSalle, Mick (January 25, 2002). "Penn plays sad 'Sam' / He's full of integrity as retarded father". sfgate.com.
  11. ^ Denby, David (February 4, 2002). "I Am Sam". The New Yorker. Retrieved July 31, 2013.

External links[edit]