Generally unfavorable reviews - based on 33 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 6 out of 33
  2. Negative: 19 out of 33
Watch On
  1. Not about the justice or injustice of the legal system. Rather it's about the tragedy of Sam's predicament.
  2. 75
    Penn makes us take the leap required by Kristine Johnson and Jessie Nelson's screenplay -- you end up deeply caring about Sam and Lucy.
  3. A warm, hard-to-resist story.
  4. Reviewed by: Frank Lovece
    Penn's stark and unvarnished portrait of the challenged Sam makes even the hardest-to-swallow plot acceptable.
  5. The role sounds like a sentimental trap, but Penn doesn't fall into it. It's a sensational performance, and he illumines a movie that sometimes seems in danger of descending into modish Hollywood political correctness.
  6. Reviewed by: Jay Carr
    Ham-handedly manipulative film.
  7. The cancer of dishonesty begins to grow half an hour into the film, and it riddles the picture by the end.
  8. Reviewed by: David Edelstein
    Just don't believe the anti-hype. There are lots of reasons to have a good cry these days -- here's a nice, warm place to get squeezed.
  9. 50
    The kind of performance Penn delivers in I Am Sam, which may look hard, is easy, compared, say, to his amazing work in Woody Allen's "Sweet and Lowdown."
  10. I can imagine the pitch meeting: "It's 'Kramer vs. Kramer' meets 'Forrest Gump.' No, wait, 'Rainman' has a baby!"
  11. The dumbing down of low-IQ sentimentality.
  12. Reviewed by: Richard Corliss
    As the director of this noble weepie, Nelson so overuses visual tricks -- zooms, zip pans and multiple perspectives on a simple scene -- that she turns the viewer into an exasperated parent; this is a directorial style in need of a spanking.
  13. 40
    By-the-numbers Oscar bait -- but Penn does manage, against such odds, to make us see Sam as a person, not a performance.
  14. Not a bad movie, and its intentions are unimpeachable. But its sentimentality is so relentless and its narrative so predictable that the life is very nearly squeezed out of it.
  15. The film's one realistic performance is that of Dakota Fanning as Lucy, whose child's shame, fear and resourcefulness ground the movie in recognizable behavior. She breathes air into this suffocating enterprise.
  16. 38
    There's only one excuse for the sentimental and ham-handed I Am Sam, and it's not to tout the rights of the mentally disabled.
  17. 33
    This isn't an ordinary film built on a remarkable performance; it's a poor one with a gem at its core. Penn can elevate it to mediocrity, but he cannot make it fly.
  18. 30
    Contrived, manipulative and shamelessly sentimental, this film is notable for the courageous reach of Sean Penn, who gives a bold, heartfelt performance.
  19. 30
    Well-intentioned but ludicrous tale.
  20. 30
    It’s a heart-tugging scenario undermined by a striking hypocrisy: obscuring a hot-button issue in casting, some actors with Down's syndrome have minor roles, while Penn plays the lead -- and chews the scenery.
  21. I Am Sam is about as connected to the real world as Dr. Seuss's Green Eggs and Ham, from which its title is derived -- in fact, in the realism department, Seuss may have the edge.
  22. 30
    Pfeiffer, enormously likable in the role, almost saves the movie. [28 Jan 2002, p. 90]
  23. It's a difficult issue, one that is not well served by a hollow confection like I Am Sam.
  24. 25
    The film is so busy that every minute is exhausting. It's as if the filmmakers were idealistic teen-agers afflicted with a group case of Attention Deficit Disorder.
  25. The film means well, but each scene gets clobbered by sappy screenwriting.
  26. Reviewed by: Mike Clark
    Drawn out and dishonest in equal measure, Sam fights it out with "The Majestic" for the title of worst "important" movie of the year.
  27. The movie that Disney uses to explore this premise drips with so much corporate good-neighbor syrup, you might want to wear something waterproof. And Penn's performance is, at best, ripe for discussion.
  28. Reviewed by: Ron Wells
    Is this what Sean Penn has come to in his 40s? He hasn't appeared this retarded since he was married to Madonna.
  29. Reviewed by: Robert Koehler
    An especially insipid example of the Hollywood message movie.
  30. In one of the year's most woefully manipulative and oppressively pandering offerings: I Am Sam, a dolled-up TV movie-of-the-week masquerading as profound cinema.
  31. 0
    Penn's portrayal strikes me as equally insensitive. It's the nightmare performance of 2001.
  32. Actual concussive cranial abuse would be preferable to Jessie Nelson's I Am Sam.
  33. 0
    It's a bad movie that only a parent could love.
User Score

Generally favorable reviews- based on 102 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 40 out of 51
  2. Negative: 5 out of 51
  1. Sep 27, 2011
    I agree the movie was pretty cheesy and tacky for its taste but seriously, "I am Sam" doesn't deserve this much hate.
  2. Feb 27, 2013
    Why don't the critics like this? It was so realistic and wonderful. The critics are being bad at their job. >:l Yes watchers, pretty much allWhy don't the critics like this? It was so realistic and wonderful. The critics are being bad at their job. >:l Yes watchers, pretty much all love this. This is EPICCCC Full Review »
  3. Nov 28, 2012
    It may be overly sweet, but it's still an engaging film with one of Sean Penn's greatest performances sealed within it.