Almost Normal

Wolfe Video, 2004

Marc Moody

Starring: J. Andrew Keitch, Joan Lauckner, Tim Hammer

Unrated, 92 minutes

Be True To Your School
by Michael D. Klemm
Reprinted from Outcome, September, 2005


There is sometimes a fine line between an homage and a rip-off. Director Brian DePalma crossed that line several times in the 1980s with his faux-Hitchcock thrillers. As Outcome's reviewer, I receive many screeners which never get critiqued in print because I prefer to celebrate the good films that find their way into my mailbox instead. But every now and then one comes along that is so ludicrous, and so annoying, that the dormant Bette Davis that lurks inside of me takes possession of my fingers while I type. The movie in question here is a gay Back to the Future wannabe called Almost Normal. Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night.

Meet Brad, a 40-year old gay man who is unhappy and single. While attending his parents' 45th wedding anniversary he whines about his lonely life to his sister-in-law (and closest confidant). Gazing at his high school year book, he waxes nostalgic over a picture of Roland, the captain of the basketball team and the object of his unrequited crush, and wishes that he could have been normal. "So I can't fix a car," he says angrily, "But I sure as hell don't have to dress up like Judy Garland either!" Following a fight with his mother, ("We will not create a scene with company in the house, we are middle class white people!"), he storms out of the house and drives to a park that is a known gay pick-up spot, and smashes up his car. He wanders back to his parents' house, crawls into his old bed, and wakes up the next morning and...

...suddenly it is the 1970s again and he is a teen-ager and his mother is yelling at him to get ready for school. Well, one of his mothers, as he soon discovers that he has two moms (his "birth father " lives across the street with his partner). Arriving at school, he finds that everyone is gay and that it is the "breeders" who are the ones that are being picked on by the jocks. As he walks from his car, construction workers check out his ass. At first he panics, but then he meets Roland again and - surprise! surprise! - Roland wants to take him to the prom.

Still, Brad feels out of place and wants to get back home. (It doesn't help that he is the oldest-looking screen teen-ager since High School Confidential in the 1950s.) He enlists the aid of a mechanic, who is also a family friend in the future, (and winds up being Christopher Lloyd to Brad's Michael J. Fox), to tow his wrecked car back to a garage. He thinks that if he crashes his car in the same spot - which is of course now a notorious straight pick-up park - that he can get back to the future. But when Roland proposes marriage, he decides to chuck his former life and remain in polyester heaven with his beloved. Cue a terrible song, throw in a cute montage with our young lovers running barefoot in the park and eating ice cream and it's Love Story reborn.

But wait, there's more! Just when I thought that the movie couldn't get any more intolerable, a new student shows up at the high school and it is Janet, his future sister-in-law. And Brad and Janet fall in love and he decides to take her to the prom! (At this point I noticed the names - Brad and Janet - Rocky Horror Picture Show - pul-EEZE!) Never mind that Brad is gay and was about to bed the man he has mooned over his entire adult life - now he is suddenly straight????

Poor Brad, he just can't fit in anywhere, can he? But his suffering is nothing compared to what the audience has to go through for the next 30 minutes. Leading up to the penultimate prom are idiotic scenes like Brad and Janet going to a (gasp!) straight bar and stopping "straight bashers" from beating up a "breeder." And then there was the unforgettable moment when Brad's shocked mother tells him that "if God wanted men and women to be together he would have made women like football" and runs away in tears.

Is this a comedy? Is this a drama? Is this film for real? Most of the dialogue is horrendous; making the plays of Charles Busch sound like Arthur Miller. The acting, for the most part, isn't bad but it is painful to watch because the cast is trying so hard to make this dumb film work. The script is filled with clichˇs, the music is terrible, and the incidental songs must have been done by the director's brother-in-law. On the plus side there's a lot of beefcake in the locker room scenes and the movie is actually professionally filmed.

I suppose the point our auteur wanted to make, in his own unique fashion is that, because Brad is gay, he would be out of place in any alternate reality. But the events depicted here stretched belief to the limits, even for a comedy. You know that we, as gay people, have hit the mainstream when our own contributions to cinema start getting as bad as the movies on late-night cable. Feeling like a deer in the headlights that can't look away, I somehow managed to sit through the rest of this trainwreck of a movie only to watch it climax with one of the most contrived happy endings ever filmed. And to think our ancestors rioted at Stonewall for this.