Sam has the mental capacity of a 7-year-old. He has a daughter with a homeless woman who abandons them when they leave the hospital, leaving Sam to raise Lucy on his own. But as Lucy grows up, Sam's limitations start to become a problem and the authorities take her away. Sam shames high-priced lawyer Rita into taking his case pro bono and in turn teaches her the value of love and family.
Sam (Sean Penn), a mentally disabled man who must fight for custody of his young daughter, is aided by a tightly wound lawyer (Michelle Pfeiffer) who, in the course of discovering her client's essential humanity, discovers her own as well. The movie is a patchwork of tearjerker cliches, a number of which work quite effectively because Mr. Penn's performance goes deeper than the spastic mugging this kind of role usually invites. At bottom, though, it is an exercise in self-congratulation in which the audience is encouraged to participate, and even as the filmmakers preach the dignity of the disabled, they are not above exploiting Sam and his friends for cheap comical effect. – A. O. Scott
2001-12-28 | A. O. Scott | Read the New York Times Review of I Am Sam