Thursday, August 3, 2023

North of Normal: Movie Review

A prudent tale of life finding its way back to normal.
Cea knows her life is far from normal, but she also doesn’t really know what normal is or where to find it. As a young child her single mother opted out of society and raised Cea first in a cult in the wilderness and then with her grandparents in the Yukon. North of Normal starts with young Cea continually confused and frustrated by the weird cult but then abandoned by her mother.   2022

Directed by: Carly Stone

Screenplay by: Alexandra Weir
Based on the memoir by Cea Sunrise Person

Starring: Amanda Fix, Sarah Gadon

Teenage Cea (Amanda Fix) is finally given the opportunity to reconnect with her mother and live with her in Toronto. Finally - a city, a society, people! For the first few minutes of North of Normal we just see snippets of her off-the-grid life, just enough to get the sense that any child would long for a more interesting life and with people who actually love her (cults don’t know love, they just know control and manipulation). The trailer showed lots of potential for comedy as Cea adjusts to city life and meets her new principal (Gerry Dee), but apart from the one scene shown in the trailer, it was just potential comedy, few laughs to be found.

It's probably fair for the film to lean away from comedy, after all this is real life. Based on the memoir by Cea Sunrise Person, this is a partial story of her life. Raised in the wilderness, abandoned by her mother, often alone. It would be an alienating and disorienting experience. Combining a light-weight drama with those feelings for a main character is a difficult task, and essentially more than can be handled.

North of Normal introduces a lot of interesting topics: Cea trying to make friends at school, getting approached by a modelling agency and deciding that is her ticket to fame, and then trying to handle her mother’s new boyfriend, who exhibits all of the same qualities as the boyfriends from the cult - in other words, not good.

After introducing multiple interesting storylines, the film slowly meanders. It’s building up atmosphere, a lot of softly coloured cityscapes, finding quiet solace in the backyard with a setting sun, a melodic score trying to lower a heartrate. As Cea slowly adjusts to her new normal, she’s starting to remember traumatic incidents from her past that she has repressed. That calm, serene atmosphere the film was building is about to collide with an increasingly discombobulated Cea.

Those moments are understandably most significant for Cea, but the other smaller storylines previously introduced are way more interesting, and they get left on the backburner. North of Normal paints a very deliberate picture, each stroke has meaning, but it also takes too long to tell a less interesting version of the story.