Sam Dawson (Sean Penn) works at the local Starbucks, not as a coffee server, nor as a cash register clerk, but as a dining room janitor. You see, Sam is an adult with the mind of a 7-year-old who has just experienced the birth of his daughter as the product of a one-night stand with a homeless woman. The baby's mother exclaims, "I only wanted a place to sleep" as she disappears, leaving Sam to raise the child himself. Does a mentally disabled individual, without the mental capacity to even run a cash register, have the right, much less the capability to raise a child? Should we as a society, allow mentally disabled individuals to raise children? I Am Sam makes a compelling argument that love is the most important ingredient in raising a child, and as we learn from Sam, mentally challenged individuals are definitely capable of giving love.
Penn's performance as Sam must be mentioned alongside that of Dustin Hoffman as Rain Man's Raymond Babbitt. It is that good! Many contend that it is easy for an actor to perform in the role of a mentally challenged individual, as the actor must only perform his craft in a one-dimensional range of human emotions. My contention is that an actor's true abilities shine when he/she is asked to perform outside of the range of common, everyday human interaction.
Although Sam has his peculiarities and autistic routines that should not be disrupted - Wednesday is video night, Thursday is dinner at IHOP, Friday is karaoke night - he manages to spend much time with his daughter, Lucy (Dakota Fanning). He named her after The Beatles' Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and he is very successful at providing for her emotional needs. As she turns eight-years-old and begins to surpass the intellectual capacity of her father, government authorities want to take her away.
Remember the name Dakota Fanning. She delivers a mesmerizing performance that is guaranteed to garner her many leading roles to come. She has that magical spark in her eye...
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