Normal (2003) – A Review

Tom Wilkinson Jessica Lange Normal HBO transgender movie
Tom Wilkinson and Jessica Lange in Normal

Roy Applewood (Tom Wilkinson) seems to have the perfect life. He has just celebrated his twenty-fifth wedding anniversary with his wife Irma (Jessica Lange). He has two children, a steady blue-collar job and a beautiful home in the mid-west. But Roy has a secret that he’s unable to keep anymore. He reveals to Irma that he wants to have a sex change operation.

The revelation puts the Applewoods life in a tailspin. Irma and her children try to accept Roy’s decision as surprised as they are by it. Irma is forced to decide whether to stand by the person she fell in love with or not. The family faces judgment from all around. They’re ostracized by their church. Roy endures mockery at work. The community shuns them. And the Applewoods are forced to consider just what is it exactly that makes someone ‘normal’.

Wilkinson and Lange are wonderful in this story of acceptance and understanding. Throughout the film they both beautifully express the pain both characters are experiencing. Wilkinson with the turmoil of feeling he was born in the wrong body, the need for him to change it and the fear by doing it risking losing Irma and his family in the process. There are very quiet moments of anguish as he sits alone and contemplates about his life and the person he wants to be.

Normal 2003 HBO transgender drama movie

There are some wonderful more dramatically tormented moments where Roy hopes his gender change can be a rather mundane transition at work. He’s surrounded by all these hard-talking, blue collar men and the simple act of wearing a pair of earrings become a heartbreaking ordeal for him to go through.

You really can’t help but sympathize with him and his situation. During the whole scene I felt terrible for him and wanted to yell at his judgmental co-workers -‘just leave him alone, he’s not bothering you! If he wants to wear earrings why should you care?

Lange is great as she runs through a whole range of emotions once Roy tells her his secret. She’s confused, angry, sad. She’s a woman who has just been served an unthinkable decision in her world and now she has to either come to accepting it fully or lose the person she loves forever.

Actually the film isn’t as much about transgender change as it is about general acceptance. The film doesn’t delve into great detail about the sex change operation and the physical process that Roy begins to go through. One could almost view this story simply as a metaphor of yielding to a loved one completely. Whether you agree with all aspects of their existence or not, just accepting them for who they are fully.

Normal 2003 Tom Wilkinson Hayden Panettiere transgender

Amongst the drama and emotional scenes there is a surprising bit of levity that runs throughout the film. The movie doesn’t shy away from the lighter, funnier moments that arise from the Applewood’s situation. Most of it comes from tomboy teenage daughter Patty Ann (Hayden Panettiere) who doesn’t seem phased in the least by her father’s announcement.

There is a very funny scene around breakfast table where Roy, Irma and Patty Ann are all yelling at each other and are all driving each other crazy. We have a menstrual mother, a father taking hormones and a teenager going through puberty all snapping and being annoyed by one another. It’s a very amusing scene.

I had been thinking since Bruce Jenner’s gender reassignment announcement has making headlines it would trickle some renewed interest to this movie and people would seek it out. I recall seeing it when it first premiered on HBO and rewatching it’s still just as good as I remembered.

Here’s something of a hokey trailer for it


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1 Response

  1. Anonymous says:

    A very timely movie choice, indeed. I've never seen it but it sounds interesting.
    While I don't watch Keeping Up with the Kardashians normally, I stumbled across it a couple weekends ago and left it on. The episodes were the ones dealing with Bruce's (he was still Bruce at the time) announcement. Not known for keeping anything to themselves, in this instance, I commend them for their openness.

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