(2001)2Perry SeibertJessie Nelson's I Am Sam is poorly directed and poorly written, but contains a pair of performers (Sean Penn and Dakota Fanning) who try their best to overcome the limited material they have been given to play. There is exactly one good scene in the film. Soon to be eight-year-old Lucy (Fanning) asks her mentally challenged father, Sam (Penn), why he isn't like all the other dads. There is a real connection between the actors, and the writing is simple and direct without lapsing into false sentimentality. Sam cannot provide the answers his daughter is looking for. Sadly, the scene goes wrong when a waitress interrupts their exchange and Lucy lets Sam off the hook. This is a problem that appears throughout the script. The situations raise questions, but the filmmakers show no interest in finding a realistic solution, only in squeezing tears and heartwarming sighs out of the audience. Compounding the problem is the decision to shoot the film in a style that resembles NYPD Blue. The hand-held camera jiggles and refuses to stay anchored down. While this decision was probably made to add "realism" to the hokey script, all the camerawork does is underscore how melodramatic and unbelievable the characters and dialogue are. Penn and Fanning do their best. Penn pulls no punches, playing Sam realistically, even when his dialogue seems false. Fanning has the wide, knowing eyes of a gifted eight-year-old who has gotten used to taking in all of her surroundings, and she does appear to be as preternaturally empathetic as the character is supposed to be. Sadly, the banal movie-of-the-week dialogue undercuts these actors at every turn. In the end, the screenplay gives up on itself by quoting wholesale from Kramer vs. Kramer, and coming up with an ending that is as consistently unrealistic as the rest of this manipulative would-be tearjerker.