Normal (2003)

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Released 14-Jul-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama None
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2003
Running Time 112:00 (Case: 110)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By Jane Anderson
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Jessica Lange
Tom Wilkinson
Hayden Panettiere
Clancy Brown
Joseph Sikora
Randall Arney
Richard Bull
Mary Seibel
Case ?
RPI $24.95 Music Alex Wurman


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
German
Dutch
Bulgarian
Croatian
Czech
Danish
Finnish
Norwegian
Polish
Portuguese
Romanian
Slovenian
Swedish
Turkish
English for the Hearing Impaired
German for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

normal adj. (nrml)

  1. Conforming with, adhering to, or constituting a norm, standard, pattern, level, or type; typical: normal room temperature; one's normal weight; normal diplomatic relations.
  2. Biology. Functioning or occurring in a natural way; lacking observable abnormalities or deficiencies.

It is a word all of us are familiar with and likely use often, but is its meaning common to all people? What exactly is normal? These questions and more are asked of us as we watch another daring production from that refreshing force in American television, HBO. Roy (Tom Wilkinson) and Irma (Jessica Lange) are celebrating twenty five years of marriage at their local church as the film opens. For all intents and purposes they seem the 'normal' Midwestern couple - respectable, community spirited, church going folk with two children, son Wayne (Joseph Sikora) and daughter Patty Ann (Hayden Panettiere). Roy works at the local farm machinery manufacturing plant whilst Irma volunteers at the local church in between looking after the family home. Suddenly, Roy faints.

We move swiftly to the couple speaking, some time later, with their local reverend. Roy, entirely unexpectedly, reveals that he is in fact a woman, trapped in a man's body, and has been struggling with his condition for many years. He hoped it would go away; he still loves his wife very much, he says. Understandably Irma and Rev. Muncie are utterly shocked, and seek to find answers for this 'condition'. The church's position is clear, and the reverend spends significant time questioning whether Irma was too forceful in their relationship, and tells Roy he must fight to defeat this delusion of his. The revelations are difficult for everyone, although Patty Ann seems remarkably - arguably too remarkably - mature and level headed about her father's decision to become a woman.

Little by little Roy begins the process of becoming a woman - shopping for clothes, commencing hormone treatment, and in painful scenes firstly wears perfume, then earrings to work, where expectedly, the blue collar workers don't take too kindly to him. Roy and Irma's marriage seems on the brink of collapse. Roy moves out and both he and particularly Irma seem increasingly desperate and she, angry. Revelations of Roy's past, complete with a dominating and callous father did seem to me a little too neat an explanation of or contribution to his gender dysphoria, as presented in the film at any rate. Although not being familiar with its medical and psychological genesis I cannot offer a more informed opinion. He and Irma decide eventually that Roy should move home, and begin an entirely unconventional life, held together by that unfathomable love couples who have been married for so long share. In one of many heartbreaking scenes Irma, having been "given permission" by the reverend to cut herself off from Roy, says to him, "He is my heart," and we believe her.

With such serious subject matter it would be easy for an unrelenting melancholy to pervade the film, but thanks to good writing, intermittent moments of humour enrich the story immeasurably. Patty Ann is on the verge of womanhood and her experiences parallel her dad's to a degree, providing some quite touchingly humorous scenes. Throughout, despite not knowing exactly how a wife would react to her husband becoming a woman (how could anyone without having experienced it?) the characters' behaviour seems believable. This is helped in no small part by the performances of the two leads. Wilkinson and particularly Lange are extraordinary. We believe they have been together for a quarter of a century. The Thanksgiving dinner, when Wayne returns home briefly, having derided his father's decision in a bar with friend, is fraught with contradictory emotions, irrational behaviour and unmistakably, filled with the extraordinary love that binds families together. The film thankfully also doesn't paint everyone who questions Roy's decision in the same uncritically disparaging light. The director allows confusion and the film is all the better for it.

This is difficult and challenging material. You are probably not meant to understand Roy's choices, merely observe them, and come away hopefully thinking about the boundaries of normality and contemplating your rationale for setting them where you do.

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Transfer Quality

Video

We have been presented with an excellent 16x9 enhanced transfer at an approximately 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Bearing in mind that this was a made for TV production this is a very good presentation.

There are excellent levels of sharpness throughout. Blacks were clean and clear and shadow detail was excellent.

Colours are realistic and life-like, and well rendered.

MPEG artefacts weren't a significant problem at all. Occasionally there was some aliasing but this was not a major distraction. For a recent production one would expect minimal film artefacts and that's what we get. The print looks very clean indeed.

All in all, this is a very commendable transfer.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

We get two language tracks, a nice English Dolby Digital 5.1 track and less immersive German Dolby Stereo 2.0 track.

Dialogue is expertly handled and audio sync is beyond reproach.

There are no major distortions, clicks, pops or blemishes to report.

The surrounds and subwoofer are subtly but effectively used. The sometimes haunting score is given plenty of opportunity to be heard.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

The solitary extra is an informative and engaging audio commentary from writer/director Jane Anderson who talks at length about the genesis of the project, aspects of performance and filming, and of course, the subject matter, which for many (including myself) will be unfamiliar.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

The only difference to note is of language tracks.

The Region 1 loses the German track but picks up an English Stereo and Spanish Stereo track.

Summary

Another fascinating and emotionally powerful production from HBO.

The video is excellent bearing in mind the made for TV tag.

The audio is perfect for the film.

The sole extra is a welcome addition.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Scott Murray (Dont read my bio - it's terrible.)
Wednesday, November 03, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDYamaha DVR-S100, using Component output
DisplaySony 76cm Widescreen Trinitron TV. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD Player, Dolby Digital and DTS. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationYamaha DVR-S100 (built in)
SpeakersYamaha NX-S100S 5 speakers, Yamaha SW-S100 160W subwoofer

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