Normal Life (1996) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Two thumbs up. We both feel that this film does what it is supposed to do.

Scoop's comments in white:

This provides a perfect illustration of the subjectivity inherent in writing film reviews. I don't know if this is a good film or a bad one. I do know that I found it very painful to watch because it concerns me directly. It illustrates how significantly a man might change his life if he is in love with a women who is mentally and emotionally unbalanced.

Is that what the movie is really about? I'm not sure. The point is that I couldn't focus on anything else, because I have been there and done that. I didn't end up robbing any banks or shooting any cops like the guy in this film, but I have spent a lot of time doing things that were totally out of my character in a desperate attempt to bring happiness, normality, and/or contentment to a woman whose head is broken and doesn't even really notice the extent of my efforts (in fact, usually finds fault with them!)

I don't know why we do these sorts of things. Perhaps we remember the best times we had with the person, and we think those times can come back. Perhaps we have children, and we are fulfilling our obligation to them by tending to their mother. Perhaps we hold out the hope that mental illnesses have at least partial cures, and that our loved one will return to us. Perhaps we feel obligated to someone with whom we shared a life. Perhaps we feel guilty and responsible for their problems. Perhaps it is the highest form of love we human beings can exhibit, if we support, nurture, and care for those we once loved, who once loved and appreciated us, but who now seem to be beyond caring that we do those things. Or maybe we just don't feel that we have a choice, that if we don't take care of them, nobody else will. I mean, what are you supposed to do when somebody you love loses their mind? Should you let them join the ranks of the homeless? You probably do what I have done. You end up trying to pay off their foolish debts and legal problems, and trying to talk their way out of conflicts with family and neighbors, and you ultimately end up swallowing your pride and accepting the fact that they don't even seem to appreciate your sacrifices. Let's face it, we get trapped.

That's what happens to the kid in this film. He's a bookish rookie cop who can't relate to some of the brutal thuggery of his fellow officers, and just doesn't fit in to police work. He dreams of owning a book store. One day he runs into a beautiful woman who is reading A Brief History of Time, and seems even more bookish than he is. They hit it off, and he "falls in love," but there is a great problem. She is a serious sociopath with just about every possible form of mental illness. She's emotionally unstable, suicidal, a pathological liar, has no regard for other people's feelings, spends recklessly without regarding the consequences, ignores or insults his family, will not do any housework, can't sit still, is easily bored, takes a bunch of drugs, and is sexually frigid. Oh, yeah, and she mutilates herself with knives every so often, when she's not playing Russian Roulette.

Our straight arrow police officer finds out that he's been dismissed from the police force, and that he can't pay back his debts without something like eight years of frugal living. But eight years of sensible, boring life will cause him to lose his high octane babe, so he finds another profession that is extremely lucrative - robbing banks.

He's a brilliant guy in possession of a police radio, fortified with an intimate knowledge of the personalities and procedures of the local gendarmerie, and an expert with firearms. He is equipped to be brilliant at his new profession. He assembles enough of a nest egg to get out of debt, buy a house, open up his bookstore and resume a normal life. Again, the boring life that he wants to live puts him on the verge of losing his beloved psychopath, so he reluctantly re-enters the world of crime, and even takes her on as an accomplice - anything to please her, to keep her.

I guess you know how that will turn out. Lots of criminals can get away with crimes if they know when to stop, but very few know when to stop, and nobody can get away forever. Eventually the police figure out some patterns, make some correct deductions, set a trap, and ...

That was not a spoiler. The film begins with his capture and is told in flashbacks.

Is it a good film? I don't really know. It brought me into its world and held me there, but I have a personal connection to the story. Your mileage may vary. Maybe you better consult Tuna's review and check out the scores. A lot of other people also say that it's pretty darned powerful.

By the way, Normal Life started on cable, then had a brief theatrical run. James Berardinelli explains why the film had such an unusual distribution path.

For some reason which even now is unclear, Fine Line Features, Normal Life's distributor, elected not to release the film in theaters, opting instead for a run on HBO. This infuriated director John McNaughton (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer), who claimed that he never would have directed the movie had he been aware of Fine Line's intentions. So, to placate him, the company gave the film a very limited theatrical release. Without publicity or advertising, it was dead-on-arrival, and was pulled after one week.


Tuna's comments in yellow:

Normal Life  is a story of a man's obsession with a mentally unstable woman. It is a crime drama. It is a film directed by none other than John McNaughton (Wild Things), originally released on cable TV. It is supposedly based on an actual crime spree. Luke Perry is a cop, but a misfit, who loves books, and doesn't fit in with his fellow officers. He watches as Ashley Judd breaks up with a boyfriend in a bar, then shatters a glass and cuts her own hand.  Luke comes to her rescue, and resolves to be her savior. She definitely needs one. Although beautiful and bright, she is frigid, self destructive, and a heavy user of both drugs and booze. After they marry, Perry finds out that she is also addicted to maxing out credit cards, doesn't cook or clean, is suicidal, and craves excitement.

When Luke loses his job at the cop shop, he turns to bank robbing, and discovers he is very good at it. Judd accidentally sees him doing it, and demands to rob banks with him. They find themselves with enough money to live happily ever after, but she is now addicted to the thrill, so the unhappy ending becomes inevitable. The film opens with their capture, and is a flashback to the two years leading up to it. It is a fascinating study in her manic depressive self destructive behavior and his obsession with her. This is a C+.



  • No significant features, but ...
  • the transfer is good and is anamorphically enhanced for 16x9 screens



Ashley Judd is wearing only a pair of panties through much of the film, and gives many views of her breasts in good light.


The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus out of four stars: three and a quarter stars. James Berardinelli 3/4, Roger Ebert 3.5/4

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C+. Solid crime drama about a straight arrow guy who changes his life for a beautiful, sociopathic woman.

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