Judge Brett Cullum thinks this film is almost good.
If God had meant for men to be with women, he would have made women like
If you took Back to the Future mixed with Peggy Sue Got Married and made it gay—what would you get? Almost Normal tries to do just that. It's a loopy fantasy where, suddenly, being gay is expected and being straight is just plain disgusting.
Facts of the Case
Brad Jenkins (Andrew Keitch) is a single gay man who's turned forty. He still feels uncomfortable about living in a world where he's considered abnormal. He crashes his car after an anniversary party for his parents, and ends up transported back in time to his old high school. Only now he finds himself in a world where being gay is the norm, and being straight is unusual. But there's a twist—Brad finds out he's straight in this brave new world. Soon he's being "straight bashed," ostracized by his friends, judged by his family, and fighting for straight rights. He's here, he's not queer, get used to it.
It's an interesting idea—a movie where sexuality is flipped on a grand scale. Unfortunately Almost Normal falls into the same traps most gay films do. It's cheaply made and has some stilted acting. Aside from some flaws, it does pose a fascinating scenario with its alternate universe where society is turned upside down. And even more surprising are the scenes where the gay guy has to "come out" as straight. Is the movie saying that a misfit will always be a misfit no matter what?
There's a popular psychological case study I've always heard about. I don't know if it's true or if I have the details right, but the story goes like this: In a Dutch town, an entire community of gay and lesbian people volunteered to live isolated in an accepting environment. It was their own little town, where they could live and love however they wanted. Things went fine for a while, but after some time something strange happened. A group of the men and women were getting together secretly, and having clandestine affairs. A fringe movement was developing, and some of the participants in the grand experiment were turning straight as if they had to rebel. They just couldn't be society's norm even when it was flipped.
Almost Normal takes this idea of the grand experiment and puts it in a fantasy setting. It flips a homosexual man into an alternate universe where gay is the norm, and he ends up having feelings for a girl. It's the old adage "no matter where you go, there you are" expressed literally. I have a feeling it might offend some in the GLBT community, who will find the fantasy too satirical for their taste. I applaud the filmmakers for not taking the easy road with this story, and for making a much more controversial tale than they had to deliver. It's a really thought-provoking idea.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Too bad the movie itself isn't executed as well as it could be. The production values are on the low side, and it feels like it was shot quickly and on the cheap. The widescreen transfer reveals a lot of grain, and the entire movie could use more visual flair. The sound is delivered in simple stereo, and there's not much to the score. I doubt the movie would earn more than a PG rating, since there is no nudity or sex, but the sexual themes will keep it from being family fare. Almost Normal uses a completely unknown cast, who do an okay job, but they are easily spotted for being actors without much experience. The make-up effects used to age the characters aren't altogether convincing either. Despite the revolutionary idea, there are way too many stereotypes of both the gay and straight variety for the film to feel real. It's hard to buy the fantasy world when even the reality portions of the movie ring false.
For this review I was sent a screener copy without extras. What a shame, because I would love to hear commentary from the writer and director. The disc also offers some deleted sequences and outtakes, which I was unable to view for this piece. I can't comment on any of the supplemental material, but it appears to be adequate.
I recommend Almost Normal as a great conversation piece for fans of GLBT cinema. It certainly could have used some better production values, but it ought to at least make you think about what it means to be gay. It's not an accomplished film, but it is an interesting one. Sometimes that's all you need, but it does leave you wishing someone could have made this one with a little more care.
Guilty of being a great concept without a strong production to support it. Almost Normal ends in a hung jury made up of nine fabulous men in their forties asking "Am I just fundamentally different?" They give up and go to brunch.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Wolfe Video
• Director's Commentary
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