Normal is a funny, lovely, touching love story about a God-fearing rural small-town Midwestern couple--Roy and Irma Applewood--played by Tom Wilkinson and Jessica Lange. Shortly after their 25th anniversay, Roy goes public with the revelation that he has long felt that he is a woman trapped in a man's body, and with the Protestant determination to do something about it, no matter the consequences. Irma (Jessica Lange), an avid knitter and member of the church choir, naturally finds this a little disconcerting.
And so the fun begins. Roy gradually becomes a woman, and Irma, as well as the kids and the townspeople, all react.
Wilkinson is a curious transsexual, shattering virtually all of our myths, he evolves from an aging, non-descript man into a still-frumpy and hopelessly homely woman. While we may feel his pain, Anderson is much more interested in challenging our reaction to him than delving into his conflicted anguish. Nevertheless, she treats his change with a certain amount of whimsy. It is difficult not to warm to his smile when he dons his first earrings.
But it is Lange who is the star of the show. Demonstrating a surprising knack for dry comedy, she moves from frustration and resentment to acceptance and compassion. Surely drawing from her own Midwestern roots (some of the move could easily have been filmed in Cloquet, Minnesota!) Lange's character never wallows in self-pity, but searches for answers within, as she seeks to redefine her relationship to her husband.
Lange once again displays her extraordinary talent. (Truth be told, she was my first crush, and she is aging beautifully.) She portrays strength and vulnerability like few in her class. (Meryl Streep comes to mind.)
Hayden Panettiere is also quite good as the 13-year-old daughter.
Normal premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
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