My first reaction? Wow! Another Hollywood attempt at portraying people with developmental disabilities. Interesting movie.
Sean Penn pleasantly surprised me in his portrayal of Sam Dawson, a young man with special needs who fights to regain custody of his seven-year-old daughter. Sure, some of the disability stereotypes are present in this movie: goofy clothes, bizarre laugh..., but there is also depth to the character. We can see Sam's frustration at not understanding the world around him, his difficulty pulling out the salient features when telling his story, his rigidity with routines, his perseveration on details. These are traits many of us are familiar with and demonstrate that the screenwriters did some research in this area. What is nice is that Sam is given a relatively "normal" life. He has a job, a neighbor he turns to for advice, and a group of buddies to hang out with. He knows how to get around the city. He can manage simple change. He's an everyday guy trying to get by.
Some of the nicest scenes in the movie revolve around Sam's interactions with his friends. One of the reasons this probably feels so authentic is the presence of Brad Allan Silverman and Joseph Rosenberg, actors with special needs. The sweetness of the scene when they try to buy kids shoes is memorable, as are many small scenes accompanied by a light hearted selection of Beatles music: Beatlemania being a theme that runs throughout the movie. This is a theme they don't take too seriously, as evidenced by poking fun at the cover of the Beatles Abby Road album by having Sam and his buddies parade across the cross-walk holding orange balloons.
The problem with this film? Its too ambitious. Had the movie stuck with the "I am Sam" theme, there may not have been a whole lot to object to. However, Jessie Nelson, director, co-screen writer and producer of the film, had loftier sights in mind and in one simple lyric "all you need is love" attempted to tackle one of the...