Elevate Difference

My Normal

Directed by Irving Schwartz

When artists use the word 'normal' to title their work, they usually mean to imply that they’re going to show us something arguably abnormal. In the case of My Normal, the fringe behavior in question is BDSM: bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism. This kind of sexuality involves one or more people in positions of power, who inflict pain or humiliation on a subordinate or subordinates.

But really, how does that differ from most marriages these days? (Just kidding.)

Writers Renee Garzon and Adam Sales believe they’re doing something revelatory with this story about a lesbian dominatrix who dreams of simultaneously enjoying a monogamous relationship, a lucrative career in BDSM and artistic freedom as a filmmaker; but who can’t seem to juggle all her balls at once. “The various controversial scenes and subjects touched upon in this film were ones Renee and Adam knew well from (firsthand) experience,” the film’s Web site explains. “They were greatly inspired by the underground NYC (New York City) scenes that are often spoken about but rarely seen.”

Unfortunately for them, we have seen these things before in movies and television. Other than a rather shocking description of a client getting a dildo lodged in his anus and subsequently requiring hospitalization, which is spoken of but not seen, there’s very little 'controversial' or 'underground' material exposed. Movies like Looking for Mr. Goodbar and Secretary, as well as television shows like Sex and the City and The L Word have taken us here before.

And it is highly problematic for a movie, which by its very nature occupies a visual medium, to spend more time talking about allegedly abnormal behavior instead of showing it. (Not that I’m clamoring for a glimpse at a dildo-obstructed anus…) The film is dialogue-driven and uses very little cinematic language to tell its story, which is at best contrived and at worst insincere. Actor interactions begin with lines about back story rather than words of familiarity, the kinds of things people who see each other every day say to one another naturally. Amateurish direction and editing employ clumsy establishing shots and empty transitions. The actors look great—too glossy to be representing the vulgar side of NYC as chronic recreational drug-users—but are generally stiff and awkward in their delivery. Ty Jones, who plays a drug dealer/would-be screenwriter, gives the most natural performance of the film (he’s definitely one to watch out for in more mainstream—and by that I mean expensive—cinema).

Perhaps this subject matter is better served by pornography or documentary, each of which would be a little of both. My Normal feels a little too… well, normal. Check out this film if you’re looking for a gentle introduction to BDSM. If you’re in the know, skip it.

Written by: Rachel Moehl, January 28th 2011