The new movie I am Sam portrays the traditional tale of a parent and child separated, but gives it a new and thought-provoking twist. In this family, the child is the one who is wise and responsible, and the parent needs to be taken care of.

Sean Penn plays Sam, a single father with the mental capacity of a seven-year-old. He and his daughter Lucy, played by newcomer Dakota Fanning, have always had a wonderful relationship but things are starting to change. Lucy is about to turn seven, and begins to surpass her father’s skills and intelligence.

When a teacher notices Lucy holding back in class, social services is contacted and removes Lucy from Sam’s home. With the help of Rita, and overworked and initially unsympathetic lawyer played by Michelle Pheifer, Sam attempts to win his daughter back.

Penn is very convincing as a man with a mental handicap, both sensitive and true to life at the same time. His character demonstrates a huge amount of affection for his daughter, but viewers are also shown his difficulties in dealing with the outside world. When Lucy begins school and other schoolchildren taunt that her father is a “retard”, she comes to learn just how different her father really is. Lucy is taken away from her father in the middle of her seventh birthday party in a gutwrenching scene where both father and daughter are confronted with each other’s flaws.

Dakota Fanning does a wonderful job in a difficult role. It’s obvious that she loves her father, but the fact is that he can still be hard to live with. She does a great job playing a little girl wise beyond her years, managing to manipulate everyone around her while still remaining loveable and appealling.

Sam sets out to win Lucy back, and manages to get Rita to try his case. Rita is a high-strung, high-powered businesswoman with little time for her family or much of a life at all outside of work. She gradually warms to Sam and comes to realize how important Lucy is to him. Through his struggle she becomes reconnected to her own son, and realizes that there is more to life than her career. Rita’s personality is established well, with her compulsive tendencies and sweet tooth letting the audience know that there are cracks in her perfect outer shell.

This movie is a definite tearjerker, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I soaked my shirtsleeve mopping up my tears, but it still has some funny moments. The scene where Sam and his friends take Lucy out to buy a pair of new shoes for work is both touching and laughable. It was probably the first time the shoe salesman had to get balloons for five grown men, but it leaves viewers with an image they won’t forget.

The soundtrack is also a high point of the movie. It is mainly composed of Beatles covers by modern musicians.

I am Sam can be cutesy at times, and the ending is predictable, but it also does a good job portraying a tough situation. As long as you know what you’re in for when you walk in the theater, you’ll walk away satisfied.

DeSantis can be reached at

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