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Review: Norman

daniel cohen reviews the coming of age comedy/drama …

Plot: Norman (Dan Byrd), a depressed and lonely teenager, lies about having cancer, a lie that circulates throughout his entire school. Norman’s lie changes his whole persona while he also deals with his father (Richard Jenkins) who actually has cancer and his growing relationship with a new girl (Emily VanCamp) in school.

In a film where the story centers around a suicidal teenager whose mom died in a car accident, and the dad is sick at home with cancer, thankfully there is plenty of levity to be had…geez. But Norman is actually an uplifting film despite its dark and depressing undertones.

The reason why this movie works is because of Norman himself. Norman is lonely, has only one friend, and has had plenty of horrible luck. And while the character is clearly depressed, the ‘woe is me’ factor is downplayed in this film. Norman is a likable and funny guy. It takes a little while to get into his character and the dialogue stumbles at first, but it doesn’t take long to like Norman. You certainly root for him, which is hard to do in other films about troubled teenagers, such as with Wes Bentley’s character in American Beauty who hangs out with plastic bags all day.

Dan Byrd does a great job of selling this character as he has to play a plethora of emotions which include funny, awkward, reserved, sad, and brutally honest, which is ironic considering the entire movie is about a lie he created. Byrd reminds me a lot of Jesse Eisenberg, with slightly less sarcasm, and a more serious demeanor.

The film is great at blending the comedic and dramatic elements at the same time. In fact, the funniest parts of this movie are when Norman is delivering horribly depressing speeches. I love when his teacher (Adam Goldberg) or friend (Billy Lush) push him to do something, whether it be a drama audition, or analyzing some book. They always have this look of regret on their face after Norman’s speeches. I found that hilarious. It makes me think of the phrase, ‘Be careful what you wish for.’ These are dark speeches, but there is always a perfect moment of levity directly afterwards.

The strongest part of the film is the relationship between Norman and his dying father. Richard Jenkins is great in this role. He could care less about getting better from cancer, but wants to only spend his last few days with his son, and making sure he’ll be fine once he’s gone. Byrd and Jenkins have a powerful chemistry.

Even in a small role, I enjoyed Adam Goldberg’s performance as Norman’s English teacher (Mr. Angelo) who tries to inspire him. Why does it always have to be the English teacher? Why can’t Physics teachers be inspiring? Mr. Angelo is kind of a dick at times, but also funny, despite the fact that a couple of the things he says in the first scene would probably get him fired.

The character I couldn’t totally get into was Emily, the new girl in school who takes a liking to Norman. She acts like she’s twelve at times, but I guess that was the point. It’s just over played a lot. I do think she is a good foil for Norman, although their romantic angle develops waaaay too fast, and it felt like they had to amp up the relationship quickly so they could force more of an emotional resonance at the end. Their strongest scene together is when they go to Emily’s house. Along with the ending, this is probably Byrd’s best scene.

The problem with any movie that deals with a big lie is that once that happens, you are just waiting for it to get exposed. Once the school learns Norman has ‘cancer,’ the film meanders along for a while, unsure of where it wants to go. But to the film’s credit, the lie is exposed in dramatic and heartbreaking fashion.

The end in general fires on all cylinders. Every important relationship Norman deals with throughout the film (including how he feels about himself) all conclude in a satisfying manner. And most of them are subtle, which I loved.

It takes a while to find its footing, the middle slows up a bit, and the score is overbearing at times, but in the end, Norman is a strong film that takes heavy subject matter and straddles the line of comedy and drama perfectly.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10 (Very Good)

Daniel Cohen
Daniel Cohen
Daniel Cohen likes movies and bagels, and that’s pretty much it. Aside from writing Box Office predictions, Daniel hosts the monthly Batman by the Numbers Podcast on the Breakcast feed. Speaking of Batman, If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.


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