The Normals


While much of The Normals is grindingly quirky, the mostly adequate Sundance comedy gets bleak enough in the end that its Catch-22–style comedy becomes significantly more interesting. Screenwriter Christopher Ciancimino belabors his film’s central idea—anyone can be a hypochondriac—until film’s end, when his characters rationalize their dysfunctionally whimsical behavior. Billy Schine (Bryan Greenberg) is a listless milquetoast who is both unemployed and in serious debt. To stave off threatening phone calls from a bullish debt collector (the well-cast Dan Hedaya), Billy absconds to a private hospital where he and his fellow test subjects are paid $5,000 to participate in a two-week trial run of a new anti-schizophrenic medication. Billy spends much of his two weeks wondering how the drugs he’s taking are affecting him if at all. But eventually, it becomes clear that everyone in The Normals, even Gretchen (Jess Weixler), a fellow test subject who hooks up with Billy for convenience, has convinced him or herself that he or she is seeing things nobody else can and is freaking out accordingly. That one-note joke is rarely funny because all of the film’s characters are just obnoxious: One quakes with fear at the thought of his sins while another teases his fellow patients with pseudo-outlandish fake symptoms. When everybody finally accepts that they’ve been experiencing a prolonged, semi-self-inflicted meltdown, Ciancimino and director Kevin Patrick Connors’s lone gag pays off. Too bad the joke is only funny in retrospect. Simon Abrams