I Am Sam (2001) from Johnny Web

I don't think I've ever seen wider swings in the ratings from our various sources. For example, IMDb voters score it 7.1/10, but the average British critic scored it 2.1/10. I suppose if you use the British papers as your measuring stick, Sean Penn's Oscar nomination must represent the single worst movie ever to produce such a distinguished acting performance.

Of course, his performance was pretty much as overrated as the movie. I'm not saying he did a bad job. He did fine. But this is the kind of role that a good actor can do by assuming a couple of small quirks. Actors love to play this kind of role, which is up there with Long John Silver and Doc Holiday in ham potential. And maybe Foghorn Leghorn, if they ever do a live-action version of those cartoons.



If you aren't already aware, Sean Penn plays a 40 year old man with the mental capacity of a seven year old. This gave him only two possible career opportunities:

1. Busboy/janitor at Starbucks

2. Lead actor in "Zorro"

While he cleans the tables, he is also trying to raise a real seven year old, but some evil uncaring court workers are trying to take the girl away from him. He hires a hotshot lawyer (Michele Pfeiffer) who agrees to take his case pro bono.

Yawn, yawn, yada, yada, Hollywood cornball, the usual suspects.

DVD info from Amazon.

Commentary by director / Co-screenwriter Jessie Nelson
Theatrical trailer(s)
Original Documentary: Becoming Sam
Deleted and Alternate Scenes with optional director commentary
DVD-ROM CONTENT: Script-to-Screen, Link to Original Website, Hot Spot
Widescreen anamorphic format


The script has big problems:

  • Everyone can see that Penn's seven year old is the perfect child - caring, mature, curious, intelligent. He has raised her alone up until that point. What more proof of his ability do they need? Of course, you can't win any Oscars in a three minute movie.
  • The person that Penn is playing would be given to routine and repetition, but there is so much repetition that his quirks become extraordinarily irritating. I don't know how many times Penn tells a Starbucks customer - "that' s a wonderful choice". I don't suggest playing one of those games where you have to drink each time he says that, because I don't think humans can tolerate that much alcohol in two hours. And that's only one example. There are several other similar examples, and Sean Penn is on screen the entire time, so if you have a low tolerance for repetition (as I do), you really want to avoid this movie.
  • The resolution doesn't seem credible, and it doesn't seem like the best alternative for the girl.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: two stars. Ebert 2/4, Berardinelli 2/4,

  • General UK consensus: less than one star. Daily Mail 2/10, Daily Telegraph 2/10, Independent 2/10, The Guardian 2/10, The Times 2/10, Evening Standard 1/10, The Express 4/10, The Mirror 0/10, BBC 2/5

  • Sean Penn was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 7.1/10, Guardian votes 5.2/10
  • with their dollars: budget $22 million, gross $40 million
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C. Typical Hollywood schmaltz.

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