The movie, I am Sam, is the portrayal of a mentally retarded single parent struggling to maintain custody of his normal intelligence daughter. Within his circle of acquaintances are four special needs adults who are his close friends and two normal intelligence adults who exhibit disordered behavior. The writers, Kristin Johnson and Jessie Nelson, spent months researching and observing developmentally disabled adults in order to provide an accurate representation of the issues faced by the special needs population.
The central character is Sam Dawson around whom the movie is woven. Sean Penn, the actor who took the role of Sam, spent time at an organization called LA Goal (Inside Out Productions), a workshop for the developmentally disabled in Culver City, CA. It was from his observation of people at the workshop from whence he drew his portrayal of Sam. He played Sam physically as a man with a stilted walk, spastic hand movements, and dyskensiac facial expressions – a man who was somewhat clumsy. Intellectually, the Sam character operated on level with an average seven year old. Emotionally, Sam ranged from overtly happy in a simpletonistic manner to outbursts of uncontrolled anger/upset to confused distress. Penn’s Sam appeared to be a composite of many different aspects of mental retardation blended into one character. He was believable and did not take his representation overtly overboard.
In the film are two actors who in real life have developmental disabilities: Brad Silverman and Joseph Rosenberg. Silverman has Down syndrome and Rosenberg has an undefined mental retardation. They both acted their roles but within their acting their personal handicaps were displayed. Brad Silverman had a calm, wholesome aspect to his performance and Joseph Rosenberg was quiet, cheerful, and controlled.
Sam’s group of friends included a man who suffered from paranoia and another who exhibited extreme ADD with OCD. Both were disabled to...