best films: #68: I AM SAM (2001)

First thing’s first – I’m a sucker for a heartwarmer. Well, not every cheesy, “against-the-odds” after-school special, but there’s definitely something about I am Sam. It boasts a cast of several people I wholly admire in film — Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dianne Wiest, Laura Dern, Loretta Devine, and Dakota Fanning. It’s an impossible-to-deny beautiful film, and though I’m assuming the question of whether or not it’s too saccharine is probably a polarizing one, I’ll stand by my assessment that it contains some fantastic and under-appreciated performances. Penn managed the Oscar nomination (and rightly so) and Fanning managed a SAG nod (where was the Oscar love?), but how is it that an equally brilliant turn from Pfeiffer was completely ignored? She was the damaged, flawed anti-matter to Penn’s pristine, entirely-good hero. And she played it with quiet gusto and heart-breaking depth. The leading duo gave us two representations of parenting, and they were both intriguing and pleasing to watch. So call me a sucker if you will, but I challenge you to watch I am Sam and not, at the very least, love the characters.

Standout Performance: It’s too hard to choose, so I’ll have to say a tie between the leads. Penn and Pfeiffer are great together, and it’s surprising they don’t work together more often.
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