I Am Sam? I Am Sick To My Damn Stomach.
When Michelle Pfeiffer dies and goes to Hollywood Hell, I
hope she plays Mrs. Olson in Mary-Kate and Ashley's Buckingham
Weekend Gin Bender in which she walks in on the twins
tag-teaming Prince Harry, and is forced to become "the
mom he lost" while Pfeiffer and Prince Charles (played
by Crispin Glover) learn to be good parents by studying the
royal houses of yore. All involved should likewise be punished
for I Am Sam. Except for little Dakota Fanning, who
is just taking orders as the Spielbergian Enlightened Wonder
Child. I just hope all you mongoloid perverts who think Maxim's
"Mary-Kate and Ashley's Eighteenth Birthday Countdown"
is funny just leave her the hell alone. That's kiddie porn
for men too timid to buy kiddie porn. So please, you debaucherous
lechers, leave Dakota the hell alone. It's bad enough that
she had to be in I Am Sam.
I'm so offended I'm not even going to attempt "film
criticism" with this one. I'm so pissed that I'm confused
on where to begin. Well, if Jessie Nelson were filming me
right now, she'd shake and spin the camera around my head
to express "confusion," because having a camera
shoved in your nostrils really captures what it feels like
to be retarded. And let me go ahead and get this out of the
way: I grew up around this, and part of my family still works
in counseling, but I still haven't the slightest clue what
euphemistic bullshit I'm supposed to use to describe Sam.
I won't say "special" or "challenged."
That's insulting bullshit trying to bury its meaning in syntax,
as if changing the name changes the condition. I grew up around
handicapped kids, and there's no more shame in being "blind"
as in being "visually impaired." So I'm going to
refer to Sam as "retarded"a word with absolutely
no shame. "Stupid" is insulting; it implies that
you don't use the ability you have. "Retarded" implies
that you lack natural ability. So that's what I'm going to
go with. Sam is retarded; I Am Sam is stupid.
I Am Sam learned everything it knows about retardation
from Rain Man and Charly. Sam has one of those
jobs that only exist in movies where a company is looking
to improve its image by cashing in on a cheap product placement.
He works at Starbucks carrying coffee, which he does for the
eight year span of the movie. They make no apparent
industry upgrades during that time, and I'm not even sure
Starbucks has been around that long anyway, but who cares?
Sam has taken in some homeless broad, whom he gets pregnant.
They had to live with each other for at least nine months,
but Sam, even though he's got a Rain Man obsession
with schedules, doesn't seem too phased as the mystery woman
pops out Lucy, walks out of the hospital, and gets on the
bus out of Sam's life. Oh well. That leads to adorable scenes
of Sam screwing up diapers. Thank goodness for Dianne Wiest,
the Next Door Guardian Angel, Annie. That's right, Sam's next
door neighbor graduated Summa Cum Laude at Juliard (!) and
spends her life teaching little girls piano. Fortunately,
this gives Annie time to come over and help Sam with the diapers,
which are pinned with a John Lennon "Give Peace a Chance"
button. Oh yeah, I almost forgot: "Lucy" gets her
name from "Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds." Why?
Because she's a sparkling little diamond herself, and Paul's
next door neighbor's kid was named "Lucy," or something
Ok, so what's the deal with all this Beatles stuff? I think
what they're going for is this idea that the innocence and
purity of Beatles songs is a direct contrast to the materialistic
yuppies who used to value the Beatles' ideals of peace, goodness,
and love. So Sam is metaphor through which to channel this
spiritual ideal: essentially, if materialistic yuppies would
just dust off those old Beatles albums (or find a Sam), they
would be able to love their kids and spouses. So why, exactly,
distill this Beatles idea through a retarded guy? Their essential
sweetness of nature, of course. And they just...I don't know...connect,
you know? Sam has the mind of a seven year old and cannot
make coffee at Starbucks, but he can make highly abstract
connections between Beatle anecdotes and parenting. They even
play the Yoko card right out of the gates: Sam understands
why Lucy might want a new daddy because when Yoko came along
while they were making the White album, "John
wanted to do different things. John wanted to do different
things." We're asked to buy that breaking up Sam and
Lucy would be like the courts breaking up the Beatles, which
puts Family Services in the Yoko role, I guess. And when Sam
succeeds, he tells us it's like when John told George that
"Under the Sun" was one of the best songs on Abbey
Road. They've got to be kidding. Sam and his Retard Chorus
even stride across the crosswalk with yellow balloons. Fine,
the Beatles are your Baby Boomer icon of innocence and love,
but I'm still trying to figure out the connection to Sam.
Maybe if we imagine a conversation between the Beatles themselves....
(Scene: 1968, Abbey Road Studios. The Beatles, in the role
as the spiritual archetypes of peace, purity, and goodness,
are dropping acid and smoking pot while some roadie runs out
to get fish and chips.)
Paul: "'Strawberry Fields Forever' really captures the
essential purity of the human soul."
John: "For once, we agree, Paul. 'Strawberry Fields'
is a song about the simple goodness inside each of us that
will bring peace to the world."
George: "It's a fantastical ride through the dreamscape
of our spirituality. A beautiful poetic vision of our relationship
with the pure goodness of the Creator."
Ringo: "Yeah, it's kind of like we're retarded, in a
way. I think this song will really speak to retarded people."
I don't want this to sound nearly as bad as it will, but
it's been my vast experience with the 70 IQ crowd that they
are rarely inspired by the abstract philosophy of the Beatles.
Most of them I know are inspired by The Undertaker. Or Stone
Cold Steve Austin. And especially The Rock. That's not an
insult. They smell what the Rock is cookin', not parse and
apply John Lennon's neo-transcendentalism.
But what's really got me pissed off is the portrayal of Family
Services and the counselors. Yes, Family Service agencies
make bad decisions. But these people are made out to be as
evil as PCG&E from Erin Brockovich, like they poisoned
Sam's drinking water when they hauled Lucy out of the apartment.
And our heroes attack them with all the logic and tact Julia
Roberts does (and
you know my feelings on that, already). The Evil Black
(!) Lady from Family Services breaks up Lucy's birthday
party and some snot-nosed little shit with a type-A(sshole)
dad blurts out, "Lucy says he's not a real daddy,"
and the shit's dad pushes Sam the retarded guy. The
social worker ignores all this and scoops up Lucy and heads
to the shelter. Now I'll be the first to admit that the places
are difficult, but it's not because it's some Dickensian orphanage.
Ninety-nine percent of social workers are not evil. They have
one of the most difficult jobs in America and get paid peanuts
to do it. It's like the "evil" lawyer says to Michelle
Pfeiffer: "You win, you get to leave. You know who I
get to see again, day after day? The kid." He's absolutely
right, but a scene later Jessie Nelson has him badgering poor
Sam on the stand like he's Jack Nicholson in A Few Good
Men. He stops just short of, "Sam, you can't handle
the truth!" No, Sam can barely understand the question,
which is the point. And never, never, never, have I seen a
custody trial of this nature end with a lawyer Johnny Cochran-ing
a retarded guy on the stand. To cheer for Michelle Pfeiffer
in these scenes is to take the position that these greedy
damn social workers, who take great joy in ripping kids away
from their natural parents, are selfish because they've given
their lives to a job that would send the rest of us home crying
daily. Yes, social workers have screwed up. But the vast majority
of the time they're right, as they are with Sam, and you don't
see any movies about the thankless jobs they do, living right
at the poverty line themselves. We get movies about power
lawyers who are congratulated because they do one good deed
and figure out that they're supposed to pay attention to their
spoiled rotten little shit kid. Big frickin' deal.
It gets worse. Basically, the foster parent (Laura Dern)
is very nice and seems to treat Lucy very well. Little Lucy
misses her daddy, and Dern is made out to be a real bitch
because she's skeptical when Sam shows up two hours late,
or doesn't come at all (Like all bad things that happen to
Sam, it's just an accident. The mean old bus driver left him.
He gets arrested for soliciting a prostitute at IHOP, even
though no definitive answer is given and no money is exchanged.
And shouldn't she be over at the truck stop anyway?). Well,
Dern works with Sam the best she can, from my perspective,
but the film still positions her as a castrating villain who
obviously hasn't learned the employee's creed at Starbucks
or listened to Yellow Submarine latelyI'll even
bet she likes Yoko. Even Sam admits that she should be Lucy's
mommy, which is kind of the end arrangement anyway. That's
the whole point of joint custody. I realize Sam is retarded,
but the judge probably isn't. And doesn't it make sense that
Lucy's primary residence should be the more stable environment?
Especially when the foster mom has been so compassionate toward
the father, who lives near enough to visit every day? I guess
not. It's hard enough finding kind, loving foster parents
for kids who may have love but not the means to grow, but
this piece of shit movie makes decent foster parents out to
be assholes who aren't good parents because they haven't listened
to the Help! album lately. That's beyond insulting.
And I haven't even gotten to the Greek Chorus of General
Kooks who make up the comic relief. They've got a hilarious
smorgasbord of mental and physical defects: one guy's supposed
to be autistic, I think...well, he counts stuff a lot. There's
one with Down's Syndrome. His speech impediment is pretty
damned funny. And there's two other general crazies. Included
in their wacky antics is bringing "Free Lucy"
signs to the big trial! I think what really made me mad
is that I thought the movie was over as Sam gave his Big Speech....BIG
GODDAMN SPOILER ALERT! but it turns out to be the big speech
from Kramer vs. Kramer. And so I had to sit there for
another forty-five minutes while Michelle Pfeiffer has her
big Moral Transformation. Gawd, I don't even want to get into
that. She has a big pool in her glass house, she neglects
her son, and she yells, "Goddamnit!" into her cell
phone when she's not abusing her secretary. Do you need to
know anything else?
Essentially, I Am Sam is some neo-hippie bullshit
crying out to ideals that should never have left college.
It reminds me of some pot-fried college professor who drones
on about the glories of communism because he never stopped
suckling the teat of the university. I Am Sam makes
some good points about the postmodern materialism, but it's
all been said before by better boomer filmmakers in infinitely
better movies. This film's rationale is that of some guilty
born-again boomer in a mid-life crisis who peels the "Funkin-groovin'"
bumper sticker off their old VW van and pastes it on the bumper
of their SUVthey just don't get it. And Sean Penn should
be embarrassed of himself. And screw Jessie Nelson. How crap
like this gets made is beyond me. Let's just take the last
scene. Sam is wearing a soccer referee's jersey and snorting
into his whistle. He drops the ball, and Lucy goes down and
scores a goal (No wonder Hockey Dad is mad: They've got Sam
refereeing the damn games!). Sam hoists her into the air and
sprints in a circle while the rest of the kids chase them.
It's the only true moment of the film: Dakota Fanning sticks
out as the only participant unscathed. Perhaps Haley Joel
should take her to the Oscars. I mean, his mom went two years
ago, and it'd be better than taking one of those little kiddie
porn Olson bitches. Speaking of the Oscars, I'll bet Sean
Penn actually goes this year if he's nominated. What a joke
that would be. I hope he gets drunk and makes a sloppy pass
at Nicole at the Fox After-Party. Then Russell kicks his ass.