i am sam is a movie about a man fighting for custody of his daughter. Sam has a below average intelligence and some autistic traits. When his daughter is born he has a support system that is adequate to facilitate independent living for him, but nobody ensures their support system provides adequate support for his daughter. Lucy is a happy, healthy, active child, but at her eighth birthday party a social worker takes Lucy away from Sam without any incidents of neglect and neither accusations nor incidents of abuse. Child Protective Services assumes neglect will eventually occur because of Sam’s differences, or—as is reiterated in the movie—his inadequacies. Then, he gets a lawyer—pro bono—who needs him as much as he needs her. Together they fight to get Lucy back. So, that’s the plot.
A story, of course, is more than plot. A story is about people, not just what happens to them. Sam is a kind, good, compassionate man who struggles with his perceived inadequacies, his lack of accommodations, and his lack of support. Yet, despite that his personal character, his strength and his spirit are admirable. He’s happy; he’s dedicated; and he’s good. As much as I’d like to identify with Sam, I find myself identifying far more with his lawyer. She tries so hard, but she’s overwhelmed and the world gets to her. She’s not a nice, good woman—at least, not when measured by how she behaves. I’m not as loud or as violent as she is, and I certainly am more in touch with my children. Yet, the world gets to me. I’m not as happy and as good as I would like to be.
This movie can trigger some pretty negative feelings. While the movie is crafted to show Sam’s strengths and weaknesses with respect and dignity, there’s some harsh, ugly language that seems all too realistic to me. It can be hard to watch. But there is one scene that sums up so much. This scene makes the movie worth watching all by itself, at least for me. Lucy asks Sam, “Did God make you like this or was it an accident?” Sam doesn’t know how to respond, and Lucy explains that he’s different from other daddies. Sam says, “I’m sorry” repeatedly. Lucy says, “Don’t be sorry. I’m lucky. Nobody else’s daddy comes to the park.”
The movie is not without faults, but it does a great job making a valuable point by showing why, instead of preaching.