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The Independent Critic

Geno Rathbone, Erin Breen, Mike Pusateri, Rocky Russell, Neil Kubath, Emmi Chen
Nicholas P. Richards
75 Mins.

 "Normal" Review 
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Normal is an independent film.

It looks like an independent film. It sounds like an independent film. It tells a story like an independent film and, perhaps most of all, Normal radiates the kind of passion, commitment and spark that you find in an independent film.

Filmed on a skeleton budget by writer/director Nicholas P. Richards following his move to the Southside of Chicago, Normal is the kind of film that you both wish had a larger budget yet are simultaneously grateful that it doesn't. I'm not sure that given a larger budget Richards would have come up with a film like Normal even if the story itself remained the same, and while the film would be a tad more enjoyable for your general moviegoing audience if it had the benefit of a few technical tweaks what's left behind is a film that feels relaxed, honest, natural and, even amidst an enormous amount of weirdness, strangely real.

Phin (Geno Rathbone) finds himself stuck in the monkey suit that he wears as a work place mascot when he's suddenly forced to come up with $3,000 when a neighbor holds his car for ransom. Given the chance by a friend (Mike Pusateri) to accompany the strange Mr. E (Rocky Russell) on a trip to Normal, Illinois to deliver a mysterious package for $2500, Phin finds his day spiraling out of control when his car breaks down, they run into a couple of shysters (Emmi Chen and Neil Kubath) and, finally, upon arrival in Normal he finds himself in an even stranger predicament with a new acquaintance, Grace (Erin Breen). Along the way, Phin begins to discover what's really important in life and starts to realize how much of a rut his life has been in.

There are a few key areas in which Normal really stands out, but they all begin with the leading performance of Geno Rathbone as Phin. Rathbone manages to be sincere, sweet, sympathetic and just the right amount of completely off-kilter. You can buy that he finds himself in a less than respectable situation, but you also completely surrender to the idea that Phin is, at his very core, a genuinely good guy that you completely root for along the way. Rathbone gives a low-key, authentic performance that never falls short.

The supporting cast is strong as well, most notably Rocky Russell and Emmi Chen, whose performance as the beautiful young female shyster brings to mind Juliette Lewis's performance as Mallory from Natural Born Killers.

That's a compliment.

Shot on a Canon 5D by D.P. Chuck Przybyl, Normal has the to be expected technical challenges that come with producing an ultra-low budget indie feature such as an occasionally inconsistent sound mix and camera work that likely isn't quite as imaginative as the crew would have liked, but given the film's modest production budget Richards and his crew accomplish some really great things here including Przybyl pristine imagery and a truly stellar original score by Terry Michael Barth along with an exceptional soundtrack.

The recently completed Normal should have no problem finding life on the indie film fest circuit, with its solid production values and indie cred story bound to attract some attention. It would be even more surprising if Rathbone didn't find himself a bit more in demand after his performance here.

While Normal is occasionally hindered by the technical challenges experienced by the vast majority of low-budget indies, it also serves as yet another example that a talented and normal cast and crew can make a normal film transcend normalcy.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic   
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