Starring: Tom Wilkinson, Jessica Lange, Randall Arney, Clancy Brown, Hayden Panettiere
Not Rated (contains Language including Sexual Dialogue and Brief Violence)
I can't imagine how difficult it would be to be trapped in the body of the wrong sex. I mean, coming out as gay was hard enough, but telling your spouse of 25 years that you were born as the wrong gender must be horrifying. "Normal" wisely doesn't pretend that it is, and shows us all of the challenges and pitfalls that this conflict can put on even the sturdiest of marriages. It would be bad enough in a liberal, big city environment, but "Normal" takes place in a small, blue-collar, God-fearing conservative town.
Roy (Wilkinson) and Irma Applewood (Lange) are celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary when Roy suddenly passes out. While discussing what happened with their pastor, an energetic man named Reverend Dale (Arney), Roy spills his biggest secret: he's a woman trapped in a man's body. Neither Irma nor Reverend Dale know how to react (although they're at least not insensitive). Much to her devastation, this is not a phase, and Roy really is a woman at heart. The ramifications of this on both of their lives form the film's central drama.
"Normal" sets itself apart by not shying away from difficult or complex questions. Director Jane Anderson, working from a script she wrote based on her play, doesn't reduce such an explosive situation to quick soundbites or soap opera-ish clichés. The film explores how Roy navigates his environment once word gets out about his secret. But what Anderson really concentrates on is how this revelation impacts Roy's relationship with Irma. Gender roles, religion, not to mention sex, are all addressed in Anderson's script. Sadly, Anderson doesn't have a good ear for dialogue. The film may be full of ideas about its subject and asks questions even we as the audience didn't think to ask, but the dialogue is bland, and that limits our emotional connection to the characters.
Fortunately, Tom Wilkinson and Jessica Lange were chosen to star in the film. Both are excellent actors and neither is sleepwalking through their performance. I could see that, with the bland script and uneven direction, the film wouldn't work with lesser actors in the roles. Randall Arney is terrific as the enthusiastic folksy preacher, although there is one scene where he's a little overbearing. Clancy Brown, another one of those "that guy" actors, is rather flat as Roy's boss and friend, Frank, who is there for both Roy and Irma. And Hayden Panettiere is on hand as Roy and Irma's daughter, but she has little to do.
This isn't a good movie, but it does what it sets out to do. "Boys Don't Cry" is a better transgender-themed movie, although the two films have vastly different goals. Still, I think this one is worth seeing if you're interested.