ARE “SAM” AND THE CRITICS MENTALLY CHALLENGED?

THE CRITIC DOCTOR EXAMINES: Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), Charles Taylor (salon.com), Owen Gleiberman (Entertainment Weekly), Frank Lovece (tvguide.com), Ron Wells (filmthreat.com), Mike Clark (USA Today), A.O. Scott (New York Times), Lou Lumenick (New York Post), Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle), Rex Reed (New York Observer), Kevin Thomas (Los Angeles Times) ^ * * * * (out of 5 stars)
When I saw all the negative movie reviews for the movie I Am Sam, I just had to see it. I knew that if I liked the film, there would be hell to pay. Well, I liked it.
I Am Sam is about Sam Dawson, a mentally challenged father being challenged by a legal system that wants to take away his little daughter, Lucy (Dakota Fanning). Rita (Michelle Pfeiffer), steps in to defend Sam’s case. Is it possible for a man with the mentality of a seven year-old to bring up a child going on eight?
Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times) said, “Every device of the movie’s art is designed to convince us Lucy must stay with Sam, but common sense makes it impossible to go the distance with the premise.” Charles Taylor (salon.com) also gripes, “But ‘I Am Sam’ never confronts the question it raises: Is Sam capable of raising a child? The answer, by any reasonable standard, is pretty clearly no.”
Rita said that with a good “support system,” Sam could remain Lucy’s guardian. Even I struggled with the idea, but when you watch the movie all the way to the end – it does make sense. It was a worthwhile journey.
Owen Gleiberman (Entertainment Weekly) asks his readers, “How did Sam, a Starbucks busboy who is too inept even to make the coffee, raise her up until then? How did he change the diapers, take her to the doctor, and pay the bills? Oh, I get it: He could do all of that because he’s sweet.”
Wrong. Frank Lovece (tvguide.com) got it right: “With the major help of his next-door neighbor, agoraphobic piano teacher Annie (Dianne Wiest), he manages to keep Lucy fed, clothed, played with and loved like nobody’s business. You don’t have to be genius to handle 3 am feedings – just a little patience and the ability to learn a circumscribed series of tasks, both of which are within Sam’s range.” Do you get it now, Owen?
Ron Wells (filmthreat.com) said, “This movie is every bit as painful as it sounds. There were at least 10 times throughout the screening that I felt like putting my fist through a plate glass window. Sure, it would have hurt, but at least it would have taken my mind off the pain in front of me.”
Too bad we didn’t go together, Ron. I would have supplied the glass! Sure, you might break your hands, but at least you wouldn’t be able to “type” your annoying review that does nothing but cause “mental pain.” I Am Sam works and Penn’s performance is touching and convincing, though some critics may think otherwise.
Gleiberman said, “He does the mincing, mushmouthed, look-what-a-dork-I-am impersonation of a ‘moron’ that kids tend to perfect in second grade. As Sam, Penn waves his arms around like flippers and speaks in a voice as thick as pancake batter — the goo-goo voice of a big, effeminate baby.”
Owen? Have you ever been around some “mentally challenged” people? Do your descriptions maybe match some real-life people who are born this way? Penn nailed it and you can’t handle it.
Mike Clark (USA Today) called Penn a “mugging embarrassment” and said, “The picture is playing like something Jerry Lewis might once have made in an attempt to recast his image. The dog-walking scene, in fact, is spookily like Lewis’ own in 1963’s Who’s Minding the Store?”
I remember Lewis was once accused of “mocking” the mentally challenged in his comedy routine. I don’t know Lewis’ heart or where he derived his inspiration, but I will say this. Comparing Penn’s performance of a “mentally challenged” character to a Jerry Lewis comedy act leaves me feeling numb.
Here are some writers that actually have a good eye for recognizing talent in Sean Penn’s performance: ^ — “If you think his performance is just a set of tics and mannerisms – repeated phrases and compulsive hand gestures – you need only look into the actor’s eyes to see how deeply he is committed to perceiving the world the way Sam does.” A.O. Scott (New York Times)
— “It works magic because of Penn, who disappears into the character so thoroughly that even Dustin Hoffman (who won Oscars for the two earlier films) would be jealous.” Lou Lumenick (New York Post)
— “Penn’s accuracy, his lack of condescension or sentiment, and his willingness to inhabit his character without any implicit commentary take what might have been the equivalent of an inflated TV movie and elevate it to the level of art.” Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle)
— “It’s Sean Penn who really steals the picture from start to finish.” Rex Reed (New York Observer)
Dakota Fanning was irresistibility precious and Sam’s friends added just the right touch of humor. Michelle Pfeiffer brilliantly transforms her lawyer character into a caring person as Sam’s metaphors proved to be a bridge to her heart. The “Beatle’s” soundtrack gives this teary story some needed upbeat moments. I liked the film, but jerky camera movements were a bit much and it could have been shortened by at least 30 minutes.
Kevin Thomas (Los Angeles Times) summed the movie up best: “‘I Am Sam’ is a most inviting and accessible film that turns upon a mental condition that most people would prefer not to think about.”
Sam may be mentally challenged, but the reviews by some film critics are just plain retarded. That said, congratulations to Owen Gleiberman! You’ve just won the Critic Doctor “Pukelitzer Prize” for worst film review. ^ –CRITIC DOCTOR
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Posted on February 8, 2002 in Features by
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