->'''Rita''': I just don't know what to call you: retarded, mentally retarded, mentally handicapped, mentally disabled, intellectually handicapped, intellectually disabled, developmentally disabled...
->'''Sam''': You can call me Sam.
''I Am Sam'' ([[AllLowercaseLetters stylized]] ''i am sam'') is a 2001 American drama film written and directed by Jessie Nelson, and starring Creator/SeanPenn as a father with a developmental disability, Creator/DakotaFanning as his inquisitive seven-year-old daughter and Creator/MichellePfeiffer as his lawyer.
Sam, a mentally handicapped man, meets a woman who takes advantage of him sexually. Nine months later, she drops a baby girl off and vanishes into the night. Though he's not able to understand all the implications of this, Sam does his best to raise the girl, whom he names Lucy, with the help of some friends.
Lucy turns out to be very bright, but after a while she realizes the gulf between her own intelligence and her father's, and she even starts to [[ObfuscatingStupidity act dumb]] - pretending that she can't read, and so on. When he calls her on this, she confesses that she never wants to be smarter than he is. She's six years old at the time.
Shortly thereafter, the school realizes that Lucy is being raised by a mentally handicapped person, and they report it. Lucy gets taken into foster care pending a court trial to figure out if Sam is capable of raising her. Sam seeks out a pro-bono lawyer, who is initially resistive to the idea of representing him, but eventually gets up to bat with everything she has.
Sam ends up moving in just down the street from the foster home. He's not aware that this is a bad thing. Lucy runs away to Sam's house repeatedly, and he keeps bringing her back to the foster home, because he knows she has to obey the law. Eventually even the foster mother comes around, realizing how much Lucy loves her father, and one night she even brings her over to Sam's house.
The court case eventually goes through: it's ruled that Sam can raise Lucy, assuming he gets help from the various resources he's proven he's capable of seeking out, to ensure that his daughter is not without proper education.
!!This film provides examples of:
* AgeCut: We cut from Lucy age 3 to Lucy age 6 during shots on the swing in the park.
* AllLowercaseLetters: The title on posters and promo material is in lower case.
* AnAesop: All you need is [[ThePowerOfLove love]]. Partly deconstructed.
* ArmorPiercingQuestion: In one of the court scenes, when Annie is on the stand, the other lawyer brings up her father, and she stares at him for a long time and then breaks down and cries. We can only assume [[AbusiveParents the reason]].
* BaitAndSwitchComment: The godmother in court when ask by Rita if she was worried about Lucy's future, she says she does, but not for the reasons we would expect:
--> '''Rita''': So, what you're saying is ... you don't worry about Lucy's future.\\
'''Annie''': No. I do. I worry all the time. I worry if they take Lucy away from her father they will take away an enormous piece of her ... and I worry that she will spend the rest of her life trying to fill that hole.
* CannotTellALie: Sam, and it becomes a problem for Rita when preparing him for his day in court.
* CarryingACake: Sam drops a cake he got for Lucy right in front of her.
* ChildrenRaiseYou: A major theme of the film is how Lucy at the age of 7 is starting to outsmart her father which may or may not be obstructive to her mental development.
* CrusadingLawyer: Rita. She is not in for the money, in fact she decides to work pro-bono after some heartwarming moments with Sam.
* DaddyDidntShow: Lucy is heartbroken when Sam doesn't show up for visiting day at her foster family.
* DefrostingIceQueen: Rita, with Sam's help, works through her ParentalNeglect issues and start to emotionally reconnect with her son.
* DidTheyOrDidntThey: After Rita has her breakdown in Sam's apartment and both hug, we cut to the next day where both meet and act slightly embarrassed. We don't learn if it was just because of Rita's meltdown or more.
* DumbIsGood: Sam is portrayed as this.
* FakeStatic: Rita pretends for her connection to break up when talking to her husband on the phone.
* FlippingTheBird: Rita towards another driver in traffic.
* InspirationallyDisadvantaged: The film is about a mentally challenged single dad fighting the state for custody of his daughter.
* IWantMyBelovedToBeHappy: Sam for his daughter.
* JukeboxMusical: Sort of, as the soundtrack consists of cover versions of songs by Music/TheBeatles.
* LyingFingerCross: Lucy, when making her oath before court.
* ManChild: Sam.
* MissingMom: Lucy's mother is a druggie who shows no interest in raising her which forces Sam into the role of a single father. He later admits that Lucy would be better off also having a mother figure in her life.
* MomentOfSilence: Put into play when Sam is forced to let Lucy go and the only sound is sad music in the background.
* NeedAHandOrAHandjob: Sam mistakes a streetwalker's mockery for a promise to help him raise his daughter. He is then arrested for soliciting her services.
* OpenSaysMe: When Sam doesn't answer Rita's knocking, she kicks in the door to his apartment.
* OscarBait: As pointed out in ''Film/TropicThunder'', Sean Penn tried just a little too hard with this one, not to mention the creative staff behind the movie.
* ProductPlacement: Lots, including Starbucks, Pizza Hut, IHOP, 7-Eleven, Porsche and Hertz.
* RagtagBunchOfMisfits: Sam and his developmentally disabled friends.
* TheRainman: Averted. Sam doesn't possess any supernormal abilities to compensate for his mental impairment.
* RealisticDictionIsUnrealistic: Averted entirely when it comes to Sam, who tends to repeat himself and mix his words. Interestingly, the more a character comes to like Sam, the more they talk like him.
* RoomFullOfCrazy: In a scene towards the end, Rita finds Sam holed up in his apartment where he has built a [[ThousandOrigamiCranes wall full of origami figures]].
** When asked what his daughter means to him, Sam makes a heartfelt speech that the judge points out is from ''Film/KramerVsKramer''.
** There is a screenshot of an episode of ''WesternAnimation/JohnnyBravo'' at one point.
* SimpletonVoice: Sam.
* TerribleIntervieweesMontage: Rita, testing Sam's developmentally delayed friends for court suitability. She decides to drop that idea quickly.
* ThousandOrigamiCranes: Sam builds a wall of origami figures in his apartment, supposedly hoping for the legend to come true and the crane granting him his wish.
* ThreeMonthOldNewborn: Lucy as a newborn is exactly that.
* TimeShiftedActor: The younger version of Lucy is played by Dakota Fanning's younger sister [[Creator/ElleFanning Elle]].
* TragicDream: Sam wants to be a good father, but he just isn't capable of raising his daughter all by himself.
* UnnaturallyBlueLighting: A blue filter is used in certain scenes, portraying bad times for Sam, like in court or in the hospital.
* VertigoEffect: In one of the courtroom scenes, after the lawyer poses his ArmorPiercingQuestion to Annie, we see him go through this camera effect from Annie's POV.
* WhenYouComingHomeDad: Rita and her husband are overworked and use to spend hardly any time with their son.
* WhiteAndGreyMorality: Sam is a mentally handicapped man who is just trying to be with his daughter while the government thinks that he wouldn't be able to raise her properly.