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Nelson plumbs the enormous sentiment quota with the relentless persistence of
an oil well drill until it erupts in a syrupy geyser.
Not that this mattered
to the Oscar voters who granted Sean Penn's performance a Best Actor nomination.
For regular audiences, though, the less cynical may be happy to be ensconced in
its overwhelming feel good factor. But even still, it's hard to ignore the film's
clumsiness and blatant manipulation.
Penn plays Sam,
a Beatles-obsessed Starbucks cleaner with the mental age of seven. Managing to
get a homeless woman pregnant, her disappearance leaves him to bring up young
Lucy. Their relationship is an endless stream of beautiful moments, until she
hits seven, exceeding Dad's mental capabilities and attracting the meddling attentions
of Social Services. To win her back, Sam wangles the free services of Pfeiffer's
To be fair on Penn,
he is the strongest element. His performance of Sam is a product of his enormous
character skills and while the sentiment is heavy, it's positively controlled
compared to what surrounds him. Pfeiffer plies mediocre callousness, but succumbs
all to easily to Sam's simple-minded 'Love is all you need' notions.
Fanning's turn as Sam's precocious daughter winningly recalls Kirsten Dunst's
and Anna Paquin's early success and the soundtrack of Beatles covers are the more
enjoyable elements of this blatant emotional wrangling.
"I Am Sam"
opens in UK cinemas on Friday 10th May 2002.
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Reviewed by Danny
Graydon , BBC Films