oh dear god..
Welcome to a new bitch-fest section. Movies I hate. Let me explain.. a movie I hate is not necessarily a cheesy or poorly-made movie. Many of those are entertaining in their own right, and typically if they can be riffed by MST3K, then they have some redeeming value, if for nothing else than being a form entertainment by virtue of their confounding awfulness. Also, since MST3K does a great job lampooning terrible movies, I typically won’t include those, although if there’s one I really can’t stand that needs further excoriation, I may include it.
Let’s back up a little bit first and talk about the science of film and film-making. The process of actually making a movie, is fucking hard as shit. I know this first hand. A buddy of mine from high school made an independent film in 2000 after he graduated from NYU film school, and I played a small role, as did many of my friends, and even my dad. Why you ask? Well not just because he wanted to be surrounded by friends on the set, but because after paying for 35mm film, a professional crew, lights, catering, makeup, securing locations, etc. (some $200K later) he could not afford to pay professional actors. Did I mention this wasn’t even a feature-length film but only 32 mins?
The movie didn’t turn out great, but the amateur actors did ok. However I got to see first-hand, how one scene, that might take up 10 seconds of screen time (as in you might totally miss it if you bend down to scratch your nuts or the cat distracts you) can take an entire 12 hour day to film. That is, if you don’t want to shoot your movie Ed Wood-style. The point is, movie-making is a labor, an incredibly tedious one if you’re working independently and on a real, non-Hollywood blank check budget. Steve Buscemi captures this beautifully in Living in Oblivion. I highly recommend seeing that film if you want a humorous, painful look at the art of independent film-making.
In general, the movies I most despise are of the big-budget Hollywood variety. That’s not to say I am an arthouse snob. Anything 70s and 80s era Spielberg, Ridley Scott, and Kubrick are still among my all time favorites. There was no lack of money or big Studio support with them. It’s also why the big-budget movies have no excuse to be formulaic and shitty. In fact, movie-goers will pay to see and enjoy good movies, usually in larger numbers, than shitty ones. But I’m not going to spend paragraphs decrying shitty modern film-making. We all know who Michael Bay is. We all know he can go fuck himself. We all know Adam Sandler could really give a crap his latest two turdburgers were panned by critics, while grossing over $175 million. He doesn’t fucking care. He’s filthy rich.
I.... have no soul
So, the point is, low-budget rushed shitty movies are what they are. It reminds me of when the MST3K guys met the great Kurt Vonnegut in the 90s. He knew the show, and they were surprised when he came to the defense of some of the film-makers form the movies they trashed. He rightly pointed out that a lot of these guys had shoestring budgets and ridiculously short timetables to churn out movies. The products were often predictably laughable, but at least they had an excuse. Now I’m not saying had Ed Wood or Harold P. Warren gotten huge budgets and great actors that they would have produced Spartacus. But given what they had to work with, they were bound to give us crap to laugh at for decades, even if they hadn’t meant to.
So, the first victim of my skewering will be one of the most vile pieces of trash ever to grace theaters with its presence. It’s basically an emotional snuff film for people incapable of being moved by the plight of real characters in a real story… or at least, that’s how director Jessie Nelson treats the audience, as he subtly rams your face from one contrived tear-jerking scene to another.
I am Sam begins with an anonymous 20-something punk rock-looking chick leaving an infant with Sean Penn and we soon realize Sean Penn is very much retarded. That exchange from Tropic Thunder was inspired by this film, and I can happily say that dialogue is much more famous than this movie. So this chick leaves the retarded father of her baby, and this action, while meant to seem villainous, is the last believable thing anyone says or does in the rest of this wretched excuse for a movie.
So soon enough Child Protective Services is at Sean Penn’s door trying to take his baby away and of course, they are villainous. We are introduced to harpy-like Michelle Pfieffer who seems like a greedy, villainous, family-neglecting “career-woman” lawyer, until she overhears gossip about her not doing enough pro-bono work, and decides to take the case. Now if you think I’m just making that up to make this movie look childish and the script infantile, you’d be dead fucking wrong. It was at this point I pretty much wanted to slit my wrists. It was at this point I could tell you everything that would transpire in this movie and how it would end, and I knew I would be suffering through every goddamned second of it.
We're a long way from Scarface, friends..
Now, you may ask, well why the holy fuck did you see this movie Trav? I’ll give you a few guesses. Hint: wasn’t my idea. But wait, it gets worse. If you think that sitting through 90 minutes of Sean Penn desperately trying to get an Oscar by playing a retarded guy raising Dakota Fanning while Michelle Pfieffer wails like a banshee in the background was bad, keep in mind this movie drags on for an excruciating 132 minutes.
So yea, Dakota Fanning makes what I guess is her debut in this pile of llama dung, and she plays one of those adorable kids who’s so fucking precocious she could bring world peace and cure cancer, if only people would listen to her and not treat her like the 6 year old she is. You ever wonder why South Park mocks this very idea in just about every episode they’ve made for the past 14 years? It’s because movies like this have insulted our intelligence with these ridiculous child characters since the days of Shirley Temple.
So, predictably, Dakota Fanning wants to stay with retarded dad, because hey.. let’s face it, it would kind of be like being raised by another kid. Woo-hoo. Imagine the possibilities. Curfews? Bathing? Not likely. Now if you think I am being insensitive to retarded people, please keep in mind this movie mercilessly exploits them, even casting some actual retarded people for scenes that are meant to be comic relief. Yes, you read that right. Maybe it’s supposed to be “cute,” but it sure seems to me like the director was trying to illicit cheap laughs by watching retarded people act and speak like retards. Nice.
I’ll add a little more insult to injury and cut to the chase. We see that retarded Sean Penn works at Starbucks, basically cleaning up messes and stacking boxes. But he desperately wants to be a barista and make lattes. We know this, because we get to see multiple scenes of him whining and kvetching to his boss about it, while his boss, predictably doesn’t think it’s such a swell idea. In one of several scenes that seem to add nothing but making you think the director is just fucking with you, Penn eventually gets his chance, and fails miserably.
Not just like he blows up a latte then they pull him off quickly, this scene seems to go on for about 10 minutes.. showing Penn’s character encounter disaster after disaster, fucking up everyone’s drinks and more or less trashing the store. It’s almost kind of funny, if you don’t like this character. And at this point in the movie, the director has made you dangerously close to actually rooting against the retarded guy.
BOO! wait.. oh god shitty movie, what have you done to me?
But wait, there’s moar. We see a later scene where Dakota Fanning convinces dad to go with her to eat somewhere else besides IHOP, which Penn loves. He also needs everything he orders made in a very specific way or he flips the fuck out. So, at this new restaurant that isn’t IHOP, he flips the fuck out. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it basically rips off Rain Man. And if you remember Rain Man, Dustin Hoffman’s character had autism, not mental retardation. So we have now insulted everyone, as the filmmakers apparently don’t know the difference between the two. Now I can chime in with a bit of experience here, as I have worked with people with mental illness for the past 5 years. So it’s feasible someone who was retarded could react in this way, but I’m guessing they just lumped all mental illnesses together for the scene.
I don’t know what the point of these scenes is, I guess in case you forgot about the whole retard thing, so ok here are some reminders. Moving on, we have a long, drawn out courtroom thing with Penn fighting to keep custody while the evil meanie state wants to put her in a foster home with non-retarded people. Michelle Pfieffer emotes and realizes she’s being a shitty wife and mother since she had the nerve to be a successful lawyer, Dakota Fanning spouts precocious worldly wisdom, and Sean Penn tries to not act so retarded in court, but he loses.
The movie could have ended right here and just been crappy and boring but with a semi-realistic, thought-provoking ending. But instead, it goes over the top into epic suckdom. That is if by this point you haven’t re-enacted that scene from Event Horizon, where the guy rips his own eyeballs out and casts dire warnings in Latin.
Save yourselves from I am Sam
We meet the new foster parents, who consist of Laura Dern and some guy I don’t remember. And Laura Dern is quite laughingly openly hostile to Sean Penn. It’s really laugh out loud stupid at this point, as Dern’s character pretty much treats Penn like he was the not retarded parent who abused Dakota Fanning all this time. It’s completely senseless and is obvious fodder for the stupid, banal, painfully obvious ending. I’m not going to “spoil” it for you, but it involves a painfully long, weepy, drawn out speech by Dern letting us all know that retarded people can make great dads, and she is over her racist anti-retard upbringing.
This movie fucking sucked, and it was insulting. Everything in this movie was so covered in shmaltz, Penn and Pfieffer’s performances were so obviously award ceremony ploys, and the dialogue and plot so forcibly intended to tear-jerk, it felt a little like psychological rape. That’s a bad pun I guess, but it’s about all I can do to explain how much I HATED this movie. It has no redeeming qualities, is not worth riffing, is not worth watching, and should be burned with fire.
Aside from that, not a bad flick.
p.s. It might be worth mentioning that this film features a “soundtrack” of aggressively shitty Beatles covers, which would usually be a further insult, but a soundtrack of feral tomcats in heat wouldn’t make the movie any more or less unbearable.