Courting Disaster

Patient: I Am Sam

PROFILE: Mentally challenged man battles small-minded stick figures, the damn "system" and an atrocious Beatles-cover soundtrack—Black Crowes sing "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" . . . talk about mental—to win custody of his young daughter. Think Dominick and Eugene meets Kramer vs. Kramermeets Rain Man meets Retards: What, They Think They're People?meets How Many Times Must John Lennon Die?

SYMPTOMS: I assumed this would be just another "If we all could only be as warmhearted as the mentally disabled" movie in which the mentally disabled aren't presented as human beings but as the poorly modulated, cross-breeding outcomes of a Smurf and a performing chimp—Isn't that darling? They're holding balloons! I wish I were retarded! Indeed, the way the movie depicts the mentally disabled the only things missing are a bellman's cap and a PETA protest. What I didn't expect is its terrific shred of a premise: the story of a man with the intelligence of a 7-year-old and his 7-year-old daughter, who worries about surpassing her father. This is great stuff to build on. Unfortunately, that plot is soon paved over to allow a slew of single-celled characters—workaholic lawyer, frightened genius, angry child of workaholic lawyer—to inhabit the screen so that the retarded man can save them by showing them the power of love, a power he isn't aware he has because, well, you know. The movie gets so turned around that the lawyer screams at our feeble-minded angel, "You think you've got the market cornered on human suffering!" Maybe not, but after two hours of this, my ass could make a strong case. DIAGNOSIS: They are sooo cute . . . Not too close! I hear they'll eat your young.
Dern and Penn
PRESCRIPTION: You've got this great premise, and you just throw it away in the first half-hour. Lemme tell you, when the little girl purposely stops herself from reading and tells her father, "I don't want to read if you can't," the big dude behind me cried—and I mean cried—"Oh, damn!" You had something here, and you just threw it away. Instead, you chose to rush inside a courtroom where we're guaranteed a resolution. Well, pardon me if I sound like Script Dr. Bork, but I really must argue against any judicial interference. This movie shouldn't be about outcomes; it's about being, about how these two very different people who love each other cope. The beauty is that the differences will never be resolved; different ages will bring different issues or, as I like to call them, drama. The beauty is that everyone can see their relationships in this. No parent-child relationship is ever resolved; the differences are just easier to make out in your movie. This could have been so much more, but in a rush to judgment, you shortchanged your movie and your audience. I object!
 
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