Normal Life

on October 25, 1996 by Alex Albanese
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   Perhaps initially, in development, Fine Line's "Normal Life" was supposed to be about thwarted expectations and the downsizing of the American Dream--specifically, the difficulties of the current crop of middle-class suburban youths, who entering adulthood find it difficult to have lives and homes as comfortable as those of their parents. It's a good concept, and the story of how one nice couple--a policeman ("8 Seconds'" Luke Perry) and his beautiful bride ("Heat's" Ashley Judd)--turns to armed robbery to get that split-level--a more serious retake on "Fun With Dick and Jane," 20 years later--seemed promising. Unfortunately, the finished product isn't so promising, and not really about anything. That's because "Normal Life" lacks even the most rudimentary sense of drama.
   Hitchcock once likened his films to "real life, but with all the dull bits snipped out." Not only have director John McNaughton ("Mad Dog and Glory") and writers Peg Haller and Bob Schneider left the dull bits in, in plenty, but they've also completely failed to lend any critical distance, motivational credibility or narrative coherence to the events they portray. Supposedly based on a true story, "Normal Life" much of the time feels like unedited documentary footage. Sequential verisimilitude is achieved, but no insight is created through structure, and never has a life of crime seemed so, well, dull.
   Other than the most basic aspect of the story--Cop Turns Criminal--there's no dramatic movement to or away from anything; things just happen. On the few occasions that events seem to be moving toward an interesting climax, nothing happens; the plot merely plods on.
   Characterization is even more inert. Judd's Pam could be an interesting mess--she's irresponsible, addicted, suicidal--and her episodes are strung out like dirty laundry on a line. But, once the rudiments of her character are established early on, it's always more of the same. Subsequent scenes push no further and reveal nothing new. She and Perry provide competent performances, although, given the material they have to work with, "Normal Life" would swallow even Bernhardt and Barrymore whole. Starring Luke Perry and Ashley Judd. Directed by John McNaughton. Written by Peg Haller and Bob Schneider. Produced by Richard Maynard. A Fine Line release. Drama. Rated R for scenes of violence, sexuality, drug use and language. Running time: 100 min.
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