“I Am Sam” is about a man named Sam Dawson who has the mental capacity of a child. He works at a Starbucks and had a daughter named Lucy with a homeless woman who abandoned the two the moment they left the hospital and Sam is left to take care of Lucy all on his own. Sam is shown to be doing a proficient job of taking care of her as she grows with the help of his friends but as she reaches age 7, Sam’s limitations start to become a problem. At school Lucy intentionally holds back to avoid looking smarter than him.
Once further complications occur and Sam is claimed to be incapable of taking care of Lucy the authorities take her away. From then on Sam seeks help in a successful but cold hearted lawyer by the name of Rita Harrison who eventually gives into taking his case pro bono. Through the course of the movie Sam teaches Rita about the value of love and family and how there is no difference in it whether someone is mentally disabled or not. I found “I Am Sam” to be very uplifting and believed that its depiction of a character with a mental disability was very well developed.
It is clearly stated in the film that Sam has a form of autism spectrum disorder which makes his mental capacity unable to surpass the age of seven. Evidence of this is shown by Sam only knowing how to read the children’s book “Green Eggs and Ham” to his daughter Lucy. When Lucy is given more complex books to read such as “Stellaluna” Sam faces difficulty reading it because he does not know the words. Sam also follows a strict routine and memorization techniques.
When at his job at Starbucks, Sam recognizes customers by name, followed by saying their usual order and repeating the phrase to remember them. A routine that Sam follows very strictly is going to IHOP with Lucy for dinner at least once a week and ordering French style pancakes. When Lucy suggested they go to a restaurant known as Big Boy for a change and Sam is unable to get what he would usually orders at IHOP he becomes frustrated and causes a disturbance within the restaurant.
Throughout the film Sam is shown repeating different phrases multiple times and being unable to properly understand social cues at times. Sam is a well depicted character shown with a mental disability and helps the audience connect to the struggles that those with similar handicaps must face even when they are trying to lead a normal life. Sam is a loving father and he desperately wants to take care of daughter. His story is similar to many others with an autism spectrum disorder who try to live a normal life as a functioning adult.
I believe this new perspective is what makes the audience grow an attachment to the film’s characters as well as makes the plot more appealing. One could argue that the function of the disabled in Hollywood is to simply only make the audience feel better about themselves. Over the course of the film the audience gains sympathy for Sam and his struggles but also sort of pokes fun at him and his friends. Sam and his friends are depicted as dressing funny, saying a bit silly but somehow charming lines and shows them as loveable because they are so clumsy and strange.
This depiction is what makes the scenes where the audience witnesses Sam breaking down, such as the scene in the restaurant where Sam becomes disturbed due to the change in his and Lucy’s usual dinner routine, more heartbreaking. The audience who is more often than not uneducated about the stereotypes and stigma brought up on the mentally disabled community feel bad for Sam and put him in a position as helpless while the rest of the film focuses on saying that he is capable of raising his daughter.
The audience does not see how Lucy calms her father down, or watch the scene until the end because it is immediately cut away by another. This film causes audiences to feel pity for Sam rather than seeing that he is capable of making responsible decisions and not letting his disability destroy him. If audiences were able to take the latter message with a grain of salt it would make the experience of watching the film even better than simply just pitying Sam.
Overall, I would recommend this movie because of its moving plot as well as showing mental disability in a more positive light. The depiction of disability at times may be a bit too light hearted and used for comic affect but the film makes up for it by establishing a valuable message. The mentally disabled are still capable of living lives just like those without disability. “I Am Sam” is a great film and helps greatly with eliminating the stereotypes and stigma of those with mental disability. This film is worth watching.