Wow it’s a big week for rewatching things
There are just so many levels to this movie, every scene has a hidden depth. There’s the surface story of a mentally retarded man trying to keep his daughter, but then there’s the prosecution lawyer who sees this situation every day, who knows the stats, that it rarely works out, he’s seen kids ruined by such situations. We’re always with Sean Penn’s character because he and Dakota Fanning just seem so destined to be together, but I love that the film makers throw every obstacle in their way, it’s never quite 100% sentimentalised. Of course the Beatles soundtrack doesn’t hurt. Every character is so fleshed out though. Pfiefffer has a whole career and and son to contend with – the way he looks at his mother when she’s hugging Dakota (Dakota leading the hug) is so revealing. Diane Wiest and her backstory that comes to light in the courtroom; even nearly completely insignificant characters like that played by Mary Steenburgen and another woman have secrets brought out in the courtroom and their reactions are immediately tear-inducing. This movie doesn’t shy away from the pain that spiders out from these kinds of stories. But, beautifully, it also never shies from the happiness and joy that triggers and sustains them. I mean, the pain in this movie is shattering; the joy, though, is overpowering. I forgot about Laura Dern’s character. The first time I saw this movie, I really and truly thought she was finally going to be the one bad character in the movie, since there are no other truly “bad” characters in it (like I said, even the prosecution has reasons). When she brings Lucy back to Sam, it made me die a thousand times over. You suddenly realise how strong Sam and Lucy’s bond is. You just get to know them for seconds, and even if there’s not an ounce of love in your soul, by god they will put love there and make you surrender. It’s overwhelming.
I’ve said everything else in the old review. I was really struck by the depths of this movie this time though. And by the random, unlikely moments that nevertheless come through that complexity. All these subplots, and there’s still time for a pure character/comedy scene of Sam recording his answer machine message, stuff like that. To me that’s the sign of perfection, really, when you can tell your whole story, keep the emotions, keep it interesting, and still throw in those little moments.
1st March 2005:
I’ve had the soundtrack to this movie for quite a long time but I never really knew what it was about.
This movie makes me almost feel bad for loving last year’s Jersey Girl so much: if you thought Ben Affleck had it bad in that movie, spare a thought for Sean Penn here.
I Am Sam is a true weepy that thrives on the strength of its characters and a real moral dilemma – though you’re always on the side of Penn, there are a number of times where you can’t help but feel that no, actually, maybe he shouldn’t be looking after a kid.
Dakota Fanning plays the daughter. This is only the second movie of hers I’ve seen and she’s already among my favourite actresses of today, if not my favourite. She’s not just another Jodie Foster, she’s got something completely different in her eyes; the commentary here offers a little insight into her skill, she apparently grew up around a handicapped aunt, so I guess she brought a lot of that to the movie … I’ll look forward to every single one of her movies from now on (I even have the unfortunate Cat in the Hat in my Blockbuster queue )
And back to the soundtrack – a must for Beatles fans, a great selection of covers that actually link beautifully to the scenes of the film (the intro to “Across the Universe”, for example – a beautiful image in itself of Penn and his disabled friends escorting Fanning across a zebra crossing à la Abbey Road, all carrying red balloons – is an instant favourite shot of mine), including a number of my favourite artists, Aimee Mann, Michael Penn (Sean’s brother) and Rufus Wainwright. Even beyond the soundtrack, Beatles references abound (Sam uses profound metaphors of Beatles history when he can’t come up with an answer of his own; and there’s a great line towards the end, “‘P.S. I Love You’, like the song…”; and Fanning’s character, Lucy Diamond Dawson, is named after… well, guess…)
It’s a great DVD, too: good, informative director/writer commentary, 40 minute documentary, and deleted scenes.
And once again I’m reminded that a Michelle Pfeiffer movie marathon is long overdue. She makes me feel gooey inside This movie came out in the same year as Riding in Cars with Boys and when Michelle Pfeiffer sort of has a breakdown towards the end of the movie, she reminded me a lot of Drew Barrymore in Riding… it’s such a sudden, frank, slice of truth and reality.
A Pfeiffer marathon would at least give me an excuse to watch this one all over again, which I already feel the urge to, listening to the director’s commentary and looking at the movie again as I write this. When a movie’s so good it makes you want the person doing the commentary to shut up, no matter how interesting they’re being, you know you’ve found something special. It’s a future favourite of mine, I’m sure.