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I Am Sam (2001)

PG-13 | | Drama | 25 January 2002 (USA)
2:24 | Trailer
A mentally handicapped man fights for custody of his 7-year-old daughter and in the process teaches his cold-hearted lawyer the value of love and family.


Jessie Nelson
3,697 ( 393)
Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 8 wins & 11 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Sean Penn ... Sam Dawson
Michelle Pfeiffer ... Rita
Dakota Fanning ... Lucy
Dianne Wiest ... Annie
Loretta Devine ... Margaret Calgrove
Richard Schiff ... Turner
Laura Dern ... Randy Carpenter
Brad Silverman Brad Silverman ... Brad (as Brad Allan Silverman)
Joseph Rosenberg Joseph Rosenberg ... Joe
Stanley DeSantis ... Robert
Doug Hutchison ... Ifty
Rosalind Chao ... Lily
Ken Jenkins ... Judge McNeily
Wendy Phillips ... Miss Wright
Mason Lucero ... Conner Rhodes


Sam Dawson has the mental capacity of a 7-year-old. He works at a Starbucks and is obsessed with the Beatles. He has a daughter with a homeless woman; she abandons them as soon as they leave the hospital. He names his daughter Lucy Diamond (after the Beatles song) and raises her. But as she reaches age 7 herself, Sam's limitations start to become a problem at school; she's intentionally holding back to avoid looking smarter than him. The authorities take her away and Sam shames high-priced lawyer Rita Harrison into taking his case pro bono. In the process, he teaches her a great deal about love and whether it's really all you need. Written by Jon Reeves <jreeves@imdb.com>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


love is all you need



Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG-13 for language | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »


Official Sites:

Warner Bros.





Release Date:

25 January 2002 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

I Am Sam See more »


Box Office


$22,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$41,779, 30 December 2001

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

DTS | Dolby Digital | SDDS



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


This movie was later remade in India with the title Main Aisa Hi Hoon (2005), starring the Indian superstar Ajay Devgn. See more »


In the very beginning shot, when Sam is sorting sugar packets in the holders, he puts the brown "raw sugar" packets in front. When he is shown setting the holders on the tables, the brown packets are in the middle. See more »


[making fun of Lucy's dad]
Conner Rhodes: Sorry, Mr. Egg.
See more »


Referenced in Saturday Night Live: The Best of Amy Poehler (2009) See more »


You've Got To Hide Your Love Away
Written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
Performed by Eddie Vedder
Eddie Vedder appears courtesy of Epic Records
See more »

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User Reviews

If you're looking for a tear-jerking, emotion-provoking melodrama, this is your first on the list,
22 September 2012 | by liquiddesires19See all my reviews

If you're looking for a tear-jerking, emotion-provoking melodrama, this is your first on the list. I am Sam is a sensational dramatic piece that will leave you with tears to wipe. In the film, Sam Dawson (Sean Penn) is a mentally challenged single father who's left by, as what it seems, a one night stand homeless woman to raise his daughter Lucy(Dakota Fanning). Despite of being a mentally retarded person, Sam has a job working in a local Starbucks coffee store and has got friends with some what equal mental capacity. He's a sweet, good-natured, and loving father to Lucy that is equally attached to him.

Unfortunately, a sordid twist of fate takes place in their paradise, at Lucy's 7th birthday a social worker believes that Sam, having the mental capacity of a 7-year-old, can't raise his child that is outgrowing him. Lucy is taken to a foster care temporarily as her father, along with the help of his mentally challenged friends, tries to find a high-profile attorney that can help him get his child back.

After multiple attempts, Sam manages to appoint an attorney (Michelle Pfeiffer) who only takes the job at first as a dare. Rita Harrison (Michelle Pfeiffer) is a successful busy lawyer that comes home to a cheating man and a son who hates her, through the movie Sam and Rita develop a friendly relationship which is an eye-opening for Rita to value her family and be more involved in her son's life. Sam goes through a legal battle to retain custody of Lucy, aided by his mentally challenged friends, his agoraphobic neighbor Annie Cassell (Diana Wiest), and his high profile determined lawyer (Michelle Pfeiffer).

The film is enriched with major cast members that in turn give out one of their best performances in their career life. Most noticeably, Sean Penn who initially visited L.A. Goal, a center in Los Angeles for mentally handicapped persons as groundwork to his role. I was truly impressed with Sean Penn's performance on the set of I Am Sam and how well he managed his role and his dedication to it as he freely indulged in the character of Sam Dawson. For anyone who has Sean Penn as a favourite actor, it's a must watch as it is easily his one of many remarkable performance and the stepping stone of his career. As for Michelle Pfeiffer, I wouldn't expect any other actress to perform the role of Rita Harrison as beautifully good as Michelle did. It's a perfect fit to her character and she accurately embodied the character of Rita that possesses an exhausted ill-tempered work driven nature. Least but not last, the amazing Dakota Fanning did a remarkable role on the set, and by far one of her best performances as a child.

The movie is Beatles-themed as we first understand Sam's character as an impressive Beatles-knowledgeable person despite being retarded. He then names his child Lucy Diamond inspired from the Beatles song "Lucy in the Diamond Sky". As a matter of fact, Michelle Pfeiffer's character is named after the song "Lovely Rita" by the Beatles and her surname is that of a Beatles member, George Harrison and if you noticed in the film, Rita Harrison(Michelle Pfeiffer) points that George Harrison was her favourite Beatle. In addition, the background music mainly consists of Beatles music and other Beatles songs covered by various artists for certain rights.

The film is sweeping in its beauty, director Jessie Nelson did a great job in portraying her idea of "I Am Sam" into an absolutely wonderful movie especially after a 7 years of film directing drought. The cinematography is mostly hand-held work as the Camera is always close by to Sam for the obvious reason of picturing Sam's movement in a subjective sense allowing the viewer to actually feel with the character and pensively translate his actions. It's a closer look to the mentally handicapped people's world, that every act of their doing has an essence and that they are truly remarkable in their own "special" way.

Lastly, should a intellectual deficiency restrain one from raising his own child? We've all had a grandma or grandma that despite of their intelligence in life aspects, had difficulty in helping their kids with their Geometry homework but does that alone hinder the child from having a well educated natural life? The movie has a great message, that when it comes to parenting, love is the most important thing and if that is present then it most certainly paves the way to a healthy parent-child relationship.

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