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CIFF 2010: 'Norman' (Jonathan Segal, 2010)

Charismatic up-and-coming actor Dan Byrd (Easy A, Cougar Town) brings a bit of grace and humor to the titular character in Norman, a tale of a depressed teenager who feigns stomach cancer while privately battling other demons.


Norman

Director: Jonathan Segal
Cast: Dan Byrd, Richard Jenkins, Emily VanCamp, Adam Goldberg
Year: 2010
US Release Date: 2010-10-08 (CIFF)
UK Release Date: TBD
Website

It's not easy making what should be a depressing film enjoyable. Which isn't saying that Norman is the next feel-good-hit-of-the-season. But considering its subject -- an unpopular teenager whose family is falling apart tells his peers he's dying of cancer -- Norman is an engrossing tale.

Norman is, through and through, an actors' picture. Director Jonathan Segal let his cast breathe, and they carried the film through a few potentially lethal cliché narrative forces. There's the not too popular kid at the forefront of the story (Dan Byrd); the suburban plight narrative; the guy-gets-the-girl rom-com.

Talton Wingate's screenplay may veer a little too close to such well-worn territory. Fortunately, the cast pulls it all together to help make every inch of film a visceral, emotional viewing.

A large part of Norman's emotional center comes from Richard Jenkins, who plays Norman's father, Doug Long: Jenkins brings an immeasurable amount of emotional gravitas to the movie, deftly performing a difficult role as a stubborn doctor refusing treatment for his debilitating stomach cancer.

As Norman's sole guardian -- Norman's mother died in a car accident -- Doug is both Norman's emotional rock and a major cause of inner turmoil for the young man. Jenkins absolutely nails the role, and his performance packs a devastating emotional wallop every moment he's onscreen: Jenkins deserves every award that can be thrown his way.

In the title role, Dan Byrd is slightly less versatile. The up-and-coming actor plays a slightly darker version of a role he's played fairly often: the unpopular, kind of geeky teenager. Here's hoping his work in Norman will help Byrd break out of that role: known best for his comedic work (Easy A, Cougar Town), Norman sees Byrd juggling weighty issues most teenagers never have to think about. Sure, he does it with a dark sense of humor, but Norman's decisions are not quite as sharp as his tongue.

When Norman's peers catch wind of a lie he told his best friend -- that he has terminal stomach cancer and will die in three months -- Norman gives into the lie rather than confess the harsher reality of his father's impending death. Norman isn't the first film in recent years to grapple with how a dramatic lie can affect a community. Nor is it the best in recent memory -- that goes to Bobcat Goldthwait's sorely under-appreciated 2009 movie, World's Greatest Dad. But Norman discusses confronting mortality in a way that's far more affecting than most films this year.

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How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

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Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

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Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

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Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

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