Almost Normal [Import]
Almost Normal describes itself as "Back to the Future meets Peggy Sue Got Married," and that gives you a good idea of what this gay-themed comedy is all about. Like those earlier movies, it's good-natured, amusing, and conventionally mainstream in its storytelling... except, of course, for the fact that it's a low-budget contemporary fantasy intended (more or less exclusively) for a gay audience. It's also the kind of too-eager-to-please comedy (like My Big Fat Greek Wedding) that you'll either love or hate in the first 10 or 15 minutes, but if you make it that far you may find yourself enjoying the movie's low-key charm and easygoing appeal. Granted, some of the acting (by a cast of complete unknowns) is amateurish and some of the dialogue is so bad it's laughable, but the "what if?" scenario yields a few interesting situations, satisfying a fantasy notion that many gay viewers will instantly identify with: What if you could relive your painful high-school days, only this time, instead of being in the ostracized gay minority, you discover that almost everyone is gay, and it's the straight kids who are "abnormal"?! That's the surprise in store for Brad (Andrew Keitsch), a gay, perpetually single 40-year-old teacher who crashes his car, is knocked unconscious, and has a Wizard of Oz-like dream in which he's back in high school, in an all-gay society where same-sex couples have children via sex with "parental partners," gym showers are co-ed, and straight kids are outcasts. It seems like an ideal situation, but Almost Normal has a lesson to teach about growing comfortable and content with one's own sexual identity, regardless of societal expectations. The role-reversal fantasy is treated far too literally, and it's not all that clever to begin with, but writer-director Marc Moody gives it a light spin that's harmless and well-intentioned. Almost Normal is the kind of movie that is typically found on the fringes of lesser-known film festivals, but it's likely to find an appreciative audience on DVD. --Jeff Shannon
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Top Customer Reviews
Oye... "E" for effort, but not much else. The acting was minimal at best, many of the lines corny, yet not corny enough to make me laugh. I had hoped for much more but was left dissapointed. The idea behind the movie deserves merit, and I was hoping for more of a "Brian McNaught, on Being Gay", but it wasn't meant to be.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Brad is nice-looking, single, gay, on the cusp of his 40th birthday, and somewhat discontent. He ogles sports jocks when they're not looking, goes on dates with guys who are miles below his desirability level, and frequently argues with his best friend Julie, who is also his sister-in-law. At a party for his parents' 45th wedding anniversary, things have just about hit the boiling point. A reunion with his best high school buddy reminds him that his friend stopped talking to him when he came out. His mother still dreams that he'll find some nice girl, and as he remarks to Julie, sometimes he just wishes that he was "normal". Not that he dislikes being gay, but he is weary of being different from the heterosexuals that surrounded him. As a gay man, I found it easy to identify with this sentiment.
Events at the party annoy him so much that he gets drunk, even though he recently gave up alcohol. Seeking some fun, he slips out of the party and drives to a local gay cruising area, where he crashes his car into a tree. As we suspect (and our suspicions are confirmed much later in the film) much of the remainder of the film is a dream sequence that plays in his mind while he lies unconscious in a hospital. And what a dream!
Brad dreams that when he wakes the next morning, something unexplainable has happened. He has traveled back in time to the 1970's, and is now an 18 year old high school student. But that's not all. He has gotten his wish to be "normal" because everyone in the world is gay! Except, of course, those outcasts who are emotionally and physically attracted to members of the opposite sex. Known pejoratively as "breeders" and "hole-punchers", heterosexuals in Brad's dream world are routinely ostracized, scorned and even "straight bashed". They are preached against, misunderstood, and subjected to extreme ignorance and isolation. Pardon my gloating, but as a gay man, I found this a most delicious and righteous turn-about on reality.
It was also highly satisfying to see a world where gay people are totally free, and stand proudly with their chosen partners before the entire world. In Brad's dream, there is no such thing as homophobia, and for a wonderful moment I allowed myself to be caught up in this glorious if absurd fantasy. Conversely, I can only imagine what it must be like for a straight person to absorb the basic premise of Brad's dream world - heterosexuals may find it strange, disjointing and probably fear-inducing. Homosexual propaganda? Yes! And highly effective.
A myriad of plot problems are resolved with witty or sometimes silly explanations. In his dream, Brad's parents have same-sex partners, but his father and mother begat him through a custom known as "birth partners" where best friends of opposite sexes have children solely to reproduce, although romance and sexual desire between the sexes is taboo and "disgusting".
Here's where Brad's dream gets dicey and somewhat confusing. Enter his sister-in-law, Julie. Although Brad has found his soul-mate, a basketball jock he had a crush on in High School in his "real" life, Brad slowly begins to realize that he is sexually attracted to Julie, and she to him. For a while, I was a bit uncomfortable with this plot twist, until I realized that the writer was cleverly engineering a take on the real-life terror, isolation, rejection and ultimate acceptance that virtually all gay people experience when they discover the truth of their own sexuality. Brad and Julie go to an underground "straight" bar, witness a violent "straight bashing" and ultimately attend their high school dance, where they demand acceptance. Many reviewers were confused by the dance scene. When Brad and Julie are denied permission to dance together ("We have to tolerate your kind, but we don't have to put up with your disgusting behavior") many of the on-looking gay couples (including some of the faculty) begin to dance with opposite sex partners, in a show of solidarity and tolerance. Some reviewers of this film thought that this signaled a reversal of Brad's fantasy dream, and that "everybody starts turning straight". Some even saw it as an argument that sexual orientation is a choice, but that's not what I got out of it - I saw it as a simple show of support for a persecuted minority.
The "gay reversal argument" has been used before, but not quite so effectively. In "Torch Song Trilogy", Harvey Fierstein begins an impassioned speech to his mother by saying, "Ma, imagine what it would be like if everyone around you was gay; every book, every magazine..." and Anne Bancroft, replies, "You're talking crazy!" Almost Normal expands this argument to its conclusion. Of course, no heterosexual can ever truly understand what it's like to be gay in a straight world. But in the end, I found much of this movie powerfully persuasive, and I wanted to round up all my straight friends and family and make them watch it. The final scenes reverted to standard gay comedy, but there was a nice romantic twist at the end I didn't see coming. That part I'll leave for you to discover, for I do recommend that you see it and decide for yourself. I left with a smile on my face and my head full of thought, and that's never a bad thing.
Brad (J. Andrew Keitch in a fine film debut) is a 40-year-old closeted gay college professor in Nebraska who lives in fear of derision and is frustrated he is unable to live his life in a happy relationship. His good friend Julie (Joan Lauckner) is supportive and encourages Brad to return home for his parent's wedding anniversary. Brad does so reluctantly, finds the usual homophobic atmosphere and in a moment of weakness, drinks too much and has an auto accident. Miraculously, when he awakens, he has the appearance of a handsome high school kid and when he wanders into the world he discovers that there has been a major reversal: now it is normal to be gay and grossly distasteful to be a straight breeder. Even his parents are gay with breeder hosts for procreation purposes. Brad sees reverse discrimination now, is sought after by the high school jock Roland (Tim Hammer), enjoys the freedom of being openly gay, but meets the now new Julie and is strangely attracted to her, having to hide his new 'straight alliance' in a new closet. And the resolution of this new dilemma is the message of the film.
Everything about the idea of the film makes the viewer want to love it, and it is a sweet little diversion of a film with some thinking material about prejudices. It is rough and hampered by many technical and casting and scripted errors, but it does give newcomer Marc Moody a strong grounding for making further films about gay life that seem to appear like seeds of ideas throughout this film. It needs polish but it is a good time and offers a wide audience a better perspective on what it feels like to live a life as an outsider. Grady Harp, February 06
What *is* "normal" anyway? That's the question explored in an extremely creative and risky screenplay writen and directed by Marc Moody, and produced by Sharon Teo, who are professors of film at University of Hawaii and University of Nebraska at Lincoln, respectively. Judging by the reviews I have seen posted elsewhere, lots of people completely missed the point of the film, not unreasonable considering the fact that this doesn't really fall into any preconceived notion you would have of gay cinema.
Brad is a forty year old (a "young 40" as he would be sure to clarify) gay college professor, who is depressed about entering middle age and still being single. At the start of the film, a colleague fixes him up with a blind date, who turns out to be the type of campy, pretentious queen that is Brad's idea of a "date from gay hell." Going home for his parents anniversary party, he runs into his sister-in-law and best confidant Julie, who tries to cheer him while Brad drones on wishing he could be young again and "normal." Leaving the party after having too much to drink, Brad is heading for the local gay cruising rest-stop, when he totals his car, but somehow manages to stumble back to his folks house and falls asleep. When he wakes up, he finds that he is back to being an 18 year old high school student, living with his parents and their respective same-sex lovers, in a world that considers same sex love to be the norm, while heterosexuality is a perversion.
His first day back at school brings lots of surprises, including getting wolf whistles from a group of construction workers, finding the gym showers now require you shower with someone of the opposite sex (to avoid same-sex horseplay), and being asked out on a date by Roland, the star basketball player. When Brad's attempt at going back to "his world" (a "Back To The Future"-ish attempt to recreate the circumstances of the car crash) fails, he settles in to his surroundings, and his relationship with Roland gets stronger, even leading to a sweet, innocent proposal. But when Brad finds Julie, now a new student at his school, he finds that he is still not quite "normal" by this world's definition, and struggles to reconcile his feelings and preserve his self-esteem.
For a low-budget indie, the film is beautifully made, with a full cast of mostly amateur actors and students from the local Lincoln NE high school as well as the University. The photography is first-rate, the sets perfect for the late '70's to early 80's time frame depicted, and it has an original musical score that adds to the atnosphere. I thought it was well-written, though perhaps a bit complex in story, with some memorable lines, most a reversal of standard phrases one hears about gays (For example, one character in the "gay" world mentions that "If God had wanted men to be with women, He would have made women to like football!")
Ultimately, the complex story line is the one drawback, especially since the full film has to be looked at in its entirety to get the concept the writer is going for. Details in some scenes may seem extraneous and confusing, until you connect them with what went before or after. Critics loved it or hated it, very little middle ground. Unrated (but could be a PG-13), excellent DVD bonus features include directors' commentary (which I recommend, going through the film for a second time), deleted/extended scenes and outtakes. To me, the film is a brilliant, original gem, and I recommend the extra effort it takes to really appreciate it.
I guess your view of this movie will depend on how you judge films. IF the content, or story line is more important to you than technicalities, you will love "Almost Normal". If you are more interested in how much money was spent on making it, (obviously not much), whether or not the actors deserve an academy award (which they don't), or how well the cast was put together (in this case, good and bad) then you will find plenty in this film to pick apart. Personally, I like being entertained and challenged by a plot to think about things I might not otherwise consider. This movie provides that. I recommend it highly, but also recommend you view it for it's content, not it's quality, and keep your expectations below the top.