An in-depth review of this film must include crucial plot details, so if you don't like "spoilers" please stop reading now. Some reviewers of this film have misinterpreted the writer's vision. Ostensibly a standard gay comedy, Almost Normal would be rather forgettable, if it wasn't also a social satire, designed to illustrate what it's like to be gay in a straight world. As satire, it succeeds very well, and in some ways as brilliantly as one could hope to expect. In spots, the plot is too confusing to produce the intended impact, but I give it an A for effort.
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.