Box art for I Am Sam

I Am Sam


Sam Dawson has the mental capacity of a 7-year-old and works at a Starbucks. He has a daughter with a homeless woman; she abandons them as soon as they leave the hospital.

Rotten Tomatoes® scores

  • Critic Score
  • Audience Score

common sense

ON for kids age 14
Positive messages
3 out of 5
4 out of 5
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
0 out of 5
3 out of 5
Positive role models
3 out of 5
1 out of 5
1 out of 5

Moving but unrealistic film has mature themes, profanity.

what parents need to know

Parents need to know that I Am Sam portrays a mentally challenged man and his impassioned efforts to parent and retain custody of his precocious young daughter. There are several heartwrenching scenes during which Sam and Lucy are forcibly taken from one another. Other characters (two of whom are actually developmentally disabled) give insightful performances that may enlighten older kids and teens about people with special needs. A female character swears occasionally: one use of "f--k," along with numerous instances of "goddammit," "hell," and other mild epithets. Starbucks is prominently featured as Sam's workplace, and many other products and retailers are identified.

what families can talk about

  • Families can talk about what Sam should do to give Lucy everything she needs. What problems are they likely to have as she gets older?
  • What did Rita learn from Sam, and why was it only Sam who could teach it to her?
  • A number of the people in the movie struggle with parenting issues -- there has never been a court proceeding in history that permitted such discussion of the family lives of all the participants and witnesses. How do you see those struggles in the families around you?

movie reviews from Rotten Tomatoes®

  • Tomatometer®

    reviews counted: 26
    see all I Am Sam reviews
  • Audience


Top Critic Reviews

Rotten: Plays out in such a conventional manner that it feels like a TV movie of the week from the '70s.

- Bill Muller, Arizona Republic, Monday, March 4, 2002

Fresh: The movie's magic is that we feel more rewarded than manipulated.

- Bruce Westbrook, Houston Chronicle, Friday, January 25, 2002

Rotten: As maudlin, mawkish and shameless a heartwringer as ever contrived.

- Carrie Rickey, Philadelphia Inquirer, Thursday, January 24, 2002

Audience Reviews

4 stars

"love is all you need" Sean Penn stars in this drama as Sam Dawson, a developmentally disabled adult who has been working at a coffee shop and raising his daughter Lucy (Dakota Fanning) for seven years. Sam receives help in his parenting duties from a circle of trusted confidantes, including his ADD-afflicted best friend Ifty (Doug Hutchison), the paranoid Robert (Stanley DeSantis), an agoraphobic neighbor (Dianne Wiest), and his other disabled pals, Brad and Joe (played by real-life developmentally challenged actors Brad Silverman and Joseph Rosenberg). Although he provides a structured and loving environment for Lucy that includes regular visits to IHOP, video nights, and karaoke, Sam's daughter is beginning to surpass him in mental acuity. When Lucy begins intentionally stunting her own growth so as not to hurt her beloved father, social worker Margaret (Loretta Devine) takes action, removing the girl from her home and placing her in the temporary care of a foster mother, Randy (Laura Dern). As the day of his hearing looms, Sam seeks out the aid of driven, obsessive lawyer Rita Harrison (Michelle Pfeiffer), who takes the case only to prove to her colleagues that she is willing to accept pro bono work. Opposed by county lawyer Turner (Richard Schiff) in court, Rita gradually comes to care for her client and his daughter, even as they force her to consider the limitations of her own abilities as a parent. The soundtrack for I Am Sam (2001) gained considerable critical attention, consisting entirely of Beatles cover songs by such contemporary artists as The Black Crowes, Eddie Vedder, the Wallflowers, and Aimee Mann, among others. Review This movie was very emotionally involving and rife with the talent of all actors included. Sean Penn did a remarkable job portraying Sam and a very young Dakota Fanning also gave an outstanding performance as his daughter Lucy. Michelle Pfeiffer was also wonderful as Sam's lawyer Rita. The plot was very well thought out and certainly unique. I loved it. While there were certainly moments of sadness, the times of profound joy at other points in this movie certainly counteracted them, making it a fabulous film that I would highly recommend to other viewers. 5/5

- LorenzoVonMatterhorn, Tuesday, October 28, 2008

3 stars

A sweet film with good performances from Penn and Fanning.

- SirPant, Friday, September 18, 2009

1 star

God, I hated this movie. Had to watch it for a psych class. I liked Dakota Fanning the best.

- MeetMeinMontauk, Thursday, January 7, 2010