Sean Penn is considered one of the most talented actors currently on screen, and I Am Sam shows why. But is the movie as good as the man behind it?
Penn stars as a mentally disabled man who has the intellectual capacity of a seven-year old yet has a daughter who is of the same age. Trouble arises when the courts take his daughter, whom he loves very deeply, saying that he is unfit to be a parent.
Playing a mentally disabled man can be hard, because it has to be really balanced. On the one hand, you have to be realistic; you can't just start talking differently, and you have to know the typical traits of a mentally disabled person. On the other hand, you must be human. You must be deep just like any other character, and remember that this person is not just comic value. Penn pulls this balance off for the most party. He's funny, but that is because his character is funny; he doesn't just do stupid things because he is mentally disabled. He has flaws just like any other person, and his disability does put him in more awkward situations, some of which are funny, but he doesn't rely on his character's shortcomings alone as a source of entertainment. His character is a good person, a caring person, and Penn is able to take advantage of that to create someone who knows they don't have an easy life ahead of him, but who keeps pushing for one.
Aside from the acting, the movie is pretty good. It's not great. The editing is fast and somewhat sloppy; obviously, this is intentional, but it really doesn't work in a slower drama like this. The movie itself is heartwarming, comical, and at the same time dramatic, and it balances everything pretty well. The other characters, namely Penn's friends, are pretty damn hilarious, and even Michelle Pfeiffer evokes some laughs as she shows just how bitchy her character is.
Some people may complain that I Am Sam makes fun of its characters, because they are disabled, and, if anything, that is the flaw that will be the deciding factor in whether they like the movie or not. Let's face it; mentally disabled people do some things that other people would consider humorous. It's not a good thing, but it's face. I Am Sam tries to avoid this fact as much as possible, but it can't avoid it completely, and so it puts us in the perspective of Sean Penn's character. Sure, he might do some "funny" things, but we get to see how he reacts to these situations.
I Am Sam is a pretty good movie, although it could have been done better. The characters are great and well written, but maybe the director needed to rethink her approach to the whole concept.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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