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The Hunt For The Worst Movie Of All Time: I Am Sam

When it was released in 2001, I Am Sam earned Sean Penn an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of a mentally handicapped Starbucks employee, which is funny, because if it wasn’t for his performance this movie would never have been nominated in The Hunt. This is the first movie featured in this abysmal project that has an Academy Award nomination, which is mildly surprising considering how many rare misses that organization makes every year, but even more surprising is that it’s the first film in The Hunt featuring Dakota Fanning. She’s the worst, and by worst I mean 47-year-old animatronic emotionbot. Have you seen the video of her singing Usher’s “Love in This Club”? It’s great. She’s so talented. Seriously, I can’t believe it’s taken this long to get some Fanning up in this. We’re going to have to step our game up, you guys, if we ever want to find the grail of sadness. WE BETTER DRUMLINE.

As the movie opens, Sam rushes from his job at Starbucks (What has two thumbs and wins the Award for Most Awkward Product Placement of all time? This movie!) to the hospital where a woman we later find out was homeless is having his baby. Sure. But when the doctor tries to hand the newborn infant to its mother, she waves him away, and when they are walking from the hospital to the bus stop, she takes off running, because that’s a thing that happens. Homeless women are always sleeping with the mentally handicapped, carrying the children to term, and then literally running away from the hospital. I wish I could have run away from this movie. Get it? I think I’m going to put my Pulitzer in the bathroom, as a conversation piece.

Left on his own, Sam manages to raise Dakota Fanning until she is seven years old without anyone caring, but then he gets arrested at a mall because a prostitute talks to him, and that’s how child services finds out that a mentally disabled man is raising a child, so they take her away, because that is how child services works. They hang out at police stations all day long waiting for retarded men to get arrested for solicitation and then they take away their children. Meanwhile, Michelle Pfeiffer is a lawyer who would seem to have it all, looks, money, and a high powered career, but once she starts working on Sam’s case (because some other lawyers at a corporate cocktail party make her feel guilty about not doing pro-bono work, just another super realistic thing that happens all the time at almost every corporate cocktail party), you might be surprised to learn that we’re all a little disabled in some way or another. For Pfeiffer, it’s the disability of having cliché emotional problems that she can’t solve without being opened up to the world by the simple wisdom of a retarded client. Boo. The rest of the movie is about Sam’s attempts to win his daughter back, which include getting a job at a Pizza Hut in a Target, and crying a lot. It doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen until the last 10 minutes, but then it happens because Dakota Fanning’s foster-ex-machina decides that Sam loves his daughter a lot, and is also apparently in charge of the law and all the courts, and he wins her back and becomes a referee for her soccer team.

One of the biggest problems with this movie is that you’re supposed to be rooting for a retarded guy to win sole custody over a child, and I think that’s not really something that should be rooted for. No offense to any retarded parents out there, but raising children is hard, and I’m not convinced by this movie’s use of Sam’s charming origami hobby and lovably obsessive desire for IHOP pancakes that he’s capable of raising a child. Sometimes love isn’t all you need, when love can’t read anything more complicated than a Dr. Seuss book, and when love has the mental capacity of a seven-year-old. Oh, that was my favorite thing also. The movie kept reminding us that Sam had the mind of a seven-year-old and that Dakota Fanning had just turned seven, with the ever-present question “what’s going to happen when she turns eight?” Because that’s how brains work. Every year on your birthday you are given all the mental capacity you are going to need for the next year. Unless, as this movie teaches us, you’re retarded.

This movie probably isn’t the Worst of All Time, but two hours and 15 minutes of Sean Penn’s incessant Oscar-baiting is particularly unbearable.

The weird thing is that there were three genuinely mentally handicapped people in the movie who played Sam’s friends, and they were the best thing about the whole movie. Why couldn’t one of them play Sam instead of Sean Penn? I’m all for making movies that tell meaningful stories about people from different walks of life and opening up our minds to the realities of how other people experience the world, but there’s such a thing as a healthy respect, and a huge difference between honoring those stories and letting Sean Penn revisit a role he created on the set of Fast Times at Ridgemont High when he stood around the Craft Services table joking with the teamsters about how Judge Reinhold had Downie ears.

Also, grow up, Netflix.

So, it’s not the Worst Movie of All Time, but it’s definitely one of the more painful performances for anyone who thinks that the line between dramatically portraying the mentally handicapped and being a drunk frat guy with bad taste in jokes is far too thin.

Next week: Johnny Mnemonic. As always make your suggestions for TWMOAT in the comments or in an email. If you have not before, please consult the Official Rules.