Film review: 'I am Sam' seems overly manipulative

How appropriate it is that “”I Am Sam”” lead character Sam Dawson (Sean Penn) works for a Starbucks franchise? Both the film and the coffee are predictable, calculated and a cheap fix.

Courtesy of New Line Pictures

Like Starbucks, the film leaves you somewhat content, but it could have been better if it wasn’t reduced to the same old tried-and-true formula.

Penn plays a mentally challenged father who manages to raise his charming daughter, Lucy Diamond Dawson (Dakota Fanning), with a little help from his friends. When Lucy reaches the age of seven, she has already eclipsed her father in terms of intellectual capabilities. Social services recommend that Sam lose parental custody of Lucy and she should be adopted.

Sam refuses social services’ suggestions and hires hard-nosed, overwrought lawyer Rita Harrison (Michelle Pfeiffer) to get Lucy back. Sam believes that all you need is love to be a good father.

Instead of trying to deal with a subject that is heavy-handed and difficult, “”I Am Sam”” is a deliberate tear-jerker that doesn’t carry that weight. The plot stretches on as it tries to squeeze out every tear left in your eyes.

Penn’s acting is nothing short of spectacular. Penn is one of the best actors today and his performance shows why. He acts naturally as a mentally handicapped father. With a childish glee yet loving heart, Sam is a lovable character.

However, it is the adorable Fanning, who plays the little child of Sam, that captures the heart of the audience. Played with such emotional charm and loving care, it’s no wonder why Sam does everything to keep her.

But even great acting can’t save this film. The script and directing don’t come together. All the characters are one-dimensional without depth and insight. After a while, the characters are so predictable and formulated that you don’t really care about them anymore.

Beyond Fanning, the only thing that this film has to offer is a wonderful soundtrack. Songs from The Beatles, covered by other artists, are mixed throughout the film. The music is an homage to the vision and enduring strength of The Beatles.

“”I Am Sam”” is unfortunate in that it tries to give an altruistic message, but pulls conventional and manipulative strings to strike the heart but not the mind. The plot drips with emotional baggage and by the end, it’s all too much.

I Am Sam

**

Starring Sean Penn, Dakota Fanning and Michelle Pfeiffer

In theaters Jan. 25

Rated PG-13

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