Normal: movie review
I just watched the movie Normal. It's a movie about a transexual person (male to female), Roy/Ruth shown from the time she first explains her gender identity disorder to her wife (just after their 25th wedding anniversary) and over the next year as she transitions in preparation for reassignment surgery. In some ways I found the movie very predictable, not so much because it was really, but moreso because over the last year I've learned so much about this topic that I knew the kinds of steps she would go through and could predict some of the emotional processes her family would go through, too. Still, the final outcome was always a little uncertain, so the movie wasn't boring just because I was familiar with the topic.
There are a number of things I liked about this movie. Tom Wilkinson as Roy/Ruth is in appearance about as 'typical middle-aged American male' as you can get. I liked that there was no real attempt made to cast a man who could easily 'pass' as female. I found this made Ruth's reality so much more honest and straightforward. Her transition was never about the task of convincing anyone else that she was a woman, but rather about acknowledging what she felt and needed to do to feel right in herself.
There is a poignant moment early on where she puts on a simple pair of gold clip-on earrings she found in a thrift store. As she looks in the mirror the person she sees is masculine in appearance - the hair is not styled, the clothes are mens, she's wearing no makeup. But she stares at her image with the earrings on and there's a subtle but obvious lifting of the spirit. Later (after an adverse reaction to 'Roy' wearing the earrings to work) she explains simply that they made her feel pretty. It's so simple, but Wilkinson acts it just right. Jessica Lange is equally good throughout the film as Roy's wife.
There's also a scene between Ruth and her son (for anyone who's seen the movie, the moment on the stairs) who is not coping with the transition well, that made me cry at such a great outpouring of honest emotion. Each person had their own issues to deal with as how they perceived Roy as their husband or father changed in order for them to understand Ruth and how she was (and wasn't) the same person as before.
Normal isn't a perfect movie. It's trying to cover a huge topic in a small amount of time and some things are done very well, and others in a more superficial manner and that can't really be helped. But it showed the complexity of human relationships in relation to transition without trying to have (or provide) all the answers. I hadn't heard of it before this week and I'm glad I happened upon it. I agree with the Amazon.com review which said:
Normal explores Roy's gender dysphoria with empathy, but also has an eye for the social and familial absurdities that come up. The humor, far from trivializing the issue, steers it away from cloying sentiment or politically correct sanctimony. The movie captures the confusion of Roy's friends and coworkers with realism and without judgment, and the stressful changes of Roy and Irma's relationship aren't sugarcoated or made into a moral lesson.Good movie.