The 52 Worst Films of the 2000s

Movies You Aught Not Watch: I Am Sam

Movies You Aught Not Watch is Nick Rogers’ weekly, alphabetical look back at the 52 worst films of 2000-2009.

“I Am Sam”
Rated PG-13

Sean Penn gave the most professionally shameful, cruelly wrongheaded performance ever nominated for a Best Actor Oscar in 2001’s “I Am Sam” — a film that deserved the bullshit-calling buckshot fired its way by “Tropic Thunder.”

To borrow “Thunder’s” parlance, Penn did indeed go “full retard” as Sam Dawson, a mentally handicapped man endeavoring with his lawyer, Rita (Michelle Pfeiffer), to prove he can raise a daughter, Lucy (Dakota Fanning), whose IQ already exceeds his.

It was to such an oversimplified, insensitive extent that it was like watching a man mimic the mocking voice that kids who don’t yet know better use on a playground.

Jessie Nelson and Kristine Johnson’s awful script lives down to Penn’s ugly ineptitude. Sam dresses in short pants, endlessly spouts catchphrases (“That’s a wonderful choice!,” “You’re my lawyer!”) and turns no fewer than six mugs to display product placement procured for Starbucks. Stopping short of a Sam-and-Rita romance is as restrained as this ridiculousness gets.

Nelson also directs as if running through a film glossary (slow-motion, freeze fames, unnecessary handheld jitteriness) and Richard Chew’s editing would make Michael Bay’s head spin, one sequence seemingly cutting to a new shot for every syllable Sam utters.

Most atrociously, Nelson and Johnson simultaneously seek laughter at Sam’s limitations and scorn for those who would persecute them. In that cold miscalculation, “Sam” crosses from cloying melodrama to active offensiveness.

Long before Sam runs a literal victory lap with Lucy in his arms, it’s clear that you will not like it anywhere.

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11 Responses to “Movies You Aught Not Watch: I Am Sam”

  1. Samantha LeRoy says:

    I can honestly say that this movie is one of my favorites and i cannot believe that you have such unsensitive comments about it. I will however try to be respectfull because everyone is intitled to their opinions, but to insult in such a way a film on this sensitive subject is not only disrespectful towards the actors and producers, but also towards the people who live wich such difficulties every single day, the people that should be rewarded for their perseverance and courage.
    I do agree that the story is very simple, but I find this fits the concept perfectly. I don’t see why you think the simplicity is a negative aspect. You obvioulsy missed the point of the whole film : showing a different side of mental illness to the public, in a situation people can relate to.
    Sean Penn was incredible in this movie and he deserves every award he is nominated for. He has gone were not many actors have gone before and showed true talent and emotion. The fact that you call his performance shameful confuses me and i would like to let you explain yourself, if you are capable of truly defending your opinion.
    thank you for reading :)

  2. Scott Byrd says:

    Not as good as Rain Man but still a good movie.

  3. clan laing says:

    ggrrrrrr … I LOVE THIS MOVIE!

  4. Dilton rod says:

    Nick Rogers, you must be the stupidest movie reviewer ever, what kind of a life have you led man ??? You missed the point of this movie and you think you are clever in rubbishing this full-of-heart movie. I could write a thousand pages to show you what you are made of, but I dont think you’ll get my drift. May god give you more heart and less hypocrisy and arrogance you fool.

  5. Sophia Rose says:

    Long time after this powerful and poignant movie played i ran across your review of "I AM SAM".
    YOU are the moron here, not Sam! I have worked with developmentally disabled individuals for decades, some dealing with similar issues to Sam. These folks are as varied and unique in their symptoms, behaviors, personalities and values as any other human being. There are also a multitude of developmental disabilities from mild learning delayed to profound retardation. I was blown away by Penn’s performance, especially since it’s a far departure from his usual chaaracters, and his buddies were pretty typical of that high functioning level . And Dakota already received her accolades for the incredible ability, sensitivity and depth of a 7 year old in a major acting role! She actually has far more than you. Clearly this story and its performances have way too much heart and intelligence, and are tackling issues other than sex, violence and car chases, that cynical, arrogant and ignorant reviewers like you can relate to. YOUR loss!

  6. chinni krishnan says:

    what a movie….. great acting… loved it 2 the core and cried 2…

  7. I saw this in the theater and enjoyed it!

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