By Don Simpson | May 5, 2013
Director: Jonathan Segal
Writer: Talton Wingate
Starring: Dan Byrd, Emily VanCamp, Richard Jenkins, Billy Lush, Adam Goldberg, Camille Mana, Jesse Head, John Aylward, Sewell Whitney
It is very difficult not to feel sorry for Norman (Dan Byrd). His mother died in a car accident; his father (Richard Jenkins) has opted to forgo further treatment for stomach cancer. Norman is left juggling his life as a teenager in high school with his life as the sole caretaker for his dying father. This is a lot of stress for an emotionally fragile teenager and Norman has decided not to tell anyone at school about his father’s rapidly deteriorating health. With no one to confide in (or vent to) about his situation, it is no surprise when Norman snaps at his best friend (Billy Lush); but instead of explaining his situation at home — which, it seems, Norman finds embarrassing — Norman exclaims that he is dying of stomach cancer. Whether or not this is a simple slip of the tongue or a purposeful plea for attention and sympathy, we will never know; but as rumors spread around school about Norman’s health, he is forced to keep up the charade. This includes having to lie to Emily (Emily VanCamp), an attractive girl who recently transferred into Norman’s school.
Prior to finding out Norman has cancer, Emily likes Norman. The news only complicates their budding relationship, blurring the line between sympathy and attraction. It is a precarious position for Emily — she does not want to abandon Norman in his time of need but she is rightly hesitant to enter into a relationship with a dying classmate as well. Both Norman and Emily are out of their element; they are stuck in existential crises that are typically reserved for adults. Perhaps this is why two adult actors — Dan Byrd and Emily VanCamp — are portraying these two mature-beyond-their-years teens. It seems like a purposeful tactic to convey the adult situations that these two teenagers are facing. Admittedly, it is a pet-peeve of mine to watch actors who are obviously not teenagers portraying high school students. Byrd and VanCamp are fantastic in their roles, though, so it is tough to criticize this fact too much.
With a story like this, there seems to be only one narrative path to take. The truth has to be revealed to Norman’s classmates that he does not have cancer, and how director Jonathan Segal and writer Talton Wingate choose to do this is one of the more interesting aspects of Norman. Segal and Wingate are faced with a difficult decision, to either punish Norman or forgive him. More importantly, they must find ways to develop this perpetually lying character into someone the audience can relate with and understand his motivations and actions.
Personally, I find the conclusion of Norman to be a bit too easy. Up until that point, most of the situations are pretty realistic, which makes the overly formulaic and predictable ending all the more disappointing. Regardless, Norman accurately showcases the inability of teenagers to confide in others. Norman perceives the adults in his life as a different generation who would never understand his modern day dilemmas, while fellow teens are just not mature enough to comprehend the severity of his situation. First and foremost, Arthur seems embarrassed about being forced to mature more rapidly than his peers. The only person who seems up for the challenge of guiding Norman through these very difficult times is Emily, but that would mean Norman would have to admit his grievous lie.