Porchlight Entertainment // 2007 // 100 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // December 18th, 2008
Odd that normal people live in houses with two Mercedes in the driveway...
I didn't realize that Normal was Canadian until a few references were made midway through the film. I'm not surprised, though, because it feels completely Canadian -- and not always in a good way. It's populated with spectacular performances, but the production is weighed down by its own misery.
The film follows several suburban familes trying to cope with a tragedy that has affected all of their lives. A 16-year-old basketball superstar has died in a car accident. His mother Catherine (Carrie-Anne Moss, The Matrix) is not coping with the loss well, estranging her husband and surviving son. Meanwhile, the boy's best friend Jordie (Kevin Zegers, Zoom), the driver of the stolen car during the accident, is just being released from a correctional facility. The drunken driver from the other car, a professor named Walt (Callum Keith Rennie, Battlestar Galactica) has tried to distance himself from the tragedy since he was acquitted of the charges.
You'll notice I didn't really describe the plot of Normal so much as explain the situation. Unfortunately, the film is much less interested in moving the story forward as it is in wallowing in misery and self-loathing. The characters all blame themselves for what has happened -- with varying amounts of justice -- and none of them is able to find any peace. As the film wears on, this misery becomes increasingly painful. It would not take much effort from each of these characters to find reconciliation and peace, but none of them are capable of making even a small amount of effort. I don't want to suggest that I have the faintest notion what it would be like to lose a child or friend like this, but it's all difficult to watch.
Indeed, the real tragedy of Normal isn't the loss of a child, it's that none of the characters is able to cope with that loss. Perhaps this is the point of the film, but it makes for pretty miserable viewing. I was reminded at times of another Canadian film that deals with a tragic loss: Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter. There, we were forced to pity the most monstrous characters and became frustrated with the most innocent. Our feelings are clouded and pressed by the tragedy, and it's truly heartbreaking. In Normal, though, we are unable to feel pity for any of the characters, not even the ones that are the most innocent. Here, we simply watch as they throw their lives and relationships away.
If nothing else, the film is packed with excellent performances. Carrie-Anne Moss seems to have the corner on dysfunctional suburban housewives these days, and she has the role down pat. I was impressed by Kevin Zegers also, whose turn as Jordie brings some unexpected twists and turns. He handles these moments with ease. The rest of the cast delivers fine performances as well, though I wish they had been given somewhere to go by the script.
The disc is perfectly acceptable. The video transfer is pleasant but not spectacular. Unfortunately, an excess of digital grain and compression prevents the anamorphic image from shining through as clearly as it should. The 5.1 audio transfer is equally disappointing. The dialogue is often muddy thanks to a lack of separation across the front sound stage. The action in the surrounds is also muddy and soft, lacking the kind of clarity we've come to expect from surround tracks. I suspect that the transfer could have been much better than this. There aren't any special features on the disc, and I'm a bit surprised not to see at least a commentary track.
While Normal has truly impressive performances, I find I can't recommend the film that highly. It is a dour, sad-sack of a film, with too little purpose and drive to succeed at becoming the meaningful character study it so desperately wants to be. The narrative is one that we've seen a number of times before, and often with more resonance than this.
Normal is guilty of pitying itself too much, and therefore will get little from me.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Porchlight Entertainment
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated R