x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Normal

Carrie-Ann Moss plays a mother struggling to deal with the death of her 16-year-old son in the director Carl Bessai's film Normal.
Carrie-Ann Moss plays a mother struggling to deal with the death of her 16-year-old son in the director Carl Bessai's film Normal.

Watching people grieve on film is all very well. But there needs to be an end point. Either something needs to happen to stop them grieving, or they need to get a grip. Watching unhappy people continue to wallow in their misery isn't edifying or insightful or even very interesting. It is just depressing. We all know bad things happen to people. But we don't necessarily go to the cinema to see how those people choose to - or in this case choose not to - deal with them.

Carrie-Ann Moss, who plays the film's central character, is all about the grief. Her haggard face, bare of make-up, is grey. All her clothes are grey. Even her house, in the affluent city of Victoria, Canada, is grey. The odd piece of citrus fruit in her immaculate, expensive-looking kitchen provides the only colour to what is otherwise a rather heavy-handed metaphor. The cause of the grief is the death of her 16-year-old son, Nicky, who was killed in a car accident two years ago. Her aloof husband doesn't get it. And she can no longer relate to her surviving son, Brady. She spends her days hugging her dead son's pillow in his perfectly preserved bedroom, weeping uncontrollably at the sight of his favourite cereal and grabbing people on the street who bear a passing resemblance to him. To describe her as unhinged would be an understatement.

The film then sets off in several directions, each story arc related in some way to the accident. There's Jordie (Kevin Zegers), a troubled friend of Nicky's, who, just released from jail, is struggling to come to terms with what happened. The same goes for Walt (Callum Keith Rennie), a university lecturer whose marriage is in ruins, and who chooses to seek solace in the arms of an ambitious TV weather girl. It is their grief, it seems, that has led them to make such a mess of their lives.

For a while, things move along at a crisp pace, as it becomes apparent how these misfits are involved. At one point, when Catherine (Moss) finds a gun stashed behind Nicky's bedside table, the plot appears to thicken. Could the beloved son (conveniently, he was also a budding basketball champion) not be quite as deserving of all this grief as we thought? Alas, Bessai chooses instead to go down the conflict and resolution route. The distraught Jordie behaves inappropriately with his young stepmother. Not surprisingly, there is soon quite a large conflict involving his aged father. And Walt, who also has an autistic brother - something that appears to have no bearing on the plot other than to expose him as a weak, self-serving man - behaves inappropriately with his new fling. Conflict ensues. Things are thrown around. More grief. On round the whimpering carousel of tears we go.

But for all the fighting, little is ever properly resolved, which is one of the film's major flaws. What is the point of watching all this suffering if not to see them somehow arise from the ashes? Of the three storylines, only one of them ends up significantly better off than they started. The other, though arguably improved, still won't let go. And the third is last seen curled up on a driveway sobbing.

You could argue that such a scenario is much closer to real life, that happy endings don't always come with the bargain. But seeing as the film has the feel of a TV movie, albeit a good one, you end up feeling slightly cheated. And bored - at 100 minutes, it's way too long. Some of the performances, though, are solid, with Camille Sullivan in her brief turn as the lonely, confused stepmother, and Rennie as a wrung-out academic, shining through. Moss, though, only has one mode. You guessed it - grief. In fact, so etched is her grimace that when she tries to smile in the penultimate scene, it almost looks creepy.

A little more insight into the character of Nicky would perhaps have shed some light on the behaviour of his survivors. Instead, this is a grey old kitchen that could have done with a lot more citrus fruit. kboucher@thenational.ae