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Mon January 21, 2002
I Am Sam
The audience will be terminally blinded by the worst case of sugar overdose since "The Majestic"...
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
Is there a Dr. Seuss in the house? We need a dose of green eggs and ham to help the movie "I Am Sam," starring Sean Penn. On second thought, hold the ham because this film is full of it. If no Dr. can be found, then the audience will be terminally blinded by the worst case of sugar overdose since "The Majestic."
When Penn first read the script, he may have turned off his signature intensity; how else could you account for his not recognizing the insipid script about a retarded man with the intelligence of a 7-year-old fighting to retain custody of his 7-year-old daughter. Penn’s mugging and nasal wonderment are technique gone in pursuit of sentiment. Even the usually in-control Penn must resort to cliched mannerisms to overcome the screenplay.
When pro-bono lawyer Michelle Pfeiffer says to Penn, "I’ve gotten more out of this relationship than you have," we have gone beyond "Kramer vs. Kramer" and "Rain Man" into the sugar land of "Mary Poppins." Pfeiffer’s redemption would play much better on a Christian Coalition channel, as would the whole politically–correct movie.
The corruption of a film manipulating the audience to side with Penn is that it is seriously questionable whether he should, given his sometimes-deficient coping skills, be in charge of the child. Even his ability to remember Beatles lyrics and dates and the film’s overlay of songs like "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" and "All You Need Is Love" can’t convince me that this is an honest portrayal of a complicated human situation. Not when he can barely understand a written court order or order food without a riot.
Go to the Lifetime Channel for more honesty than this, and tell director Jessie Nelson that the emotional hot buttons should be pushed now and then gently, not with a permanent repeat button.
John DeSando co-hosts WCBE’s "It’s Movie Time" and vice-chairs the board of The Film Council of Greater Columbus.