It’s been a long time since I’ve done a movie review column, mostly because its been a long time since I’ve seen a movie; I don’t really like watching movies alone, and since Grace and I don’t always enjoy the same films and I was frightfully busy all last year, movies were just something that had been pushed way down in my time-triage hierarchy to somewhere below “clean the bathroom” and slightly above “stand outside and look up at the stars.” But now that I’m living with Jae I’ve had to make adjustments, and movies have re-entered the picture (at least on occasion); Saturday night we watched a film which she thought would interest me on two levels, and I was not disappointed.
My Normal (2009) is the story of Natalie, a young lesbian (Nicole LaLiberte) working as a dominatrix in New York; though she enjoys her work, she views it as a temporary gig on the way to a career in filmmaking. She befriends her drug dealer Noah (Ty Jones), who has aspirations to be a screenwriter himself; soon afterward she enters into a new relationship with Jasmine (Dawn Noel), whom she meets at a club. But while Noah accepts her work and the two of them collaborate on a screenplay based on her life, Jasmine finds herself increasingly troubled by Natalie’s work and sexuality, and pushes away from her out of fear and jealousy. Eventually, though, Natalie learns that her sex work is neither something to be ashamed of nor a secret impediment to her goals, but rather a source of skills and connections that will enable her to realize them.
This is an independent film with good production values and a talented cast; it has a few noticeable editing issues and a couple of clumsy plot contrivances (such as the fact that Natalie and her three dominatrix friends all leave the dungeon where they work to pursue various life paths at apparently the same time). It also suffers from a bit too much “Hollywoodness”: the first scene was way over the top and IMHO pandered too much to popular media BDSM stereotypes; the denizens of the lesbian bar were all young, attractive and conventionally-groomed; and the end was a bit too neat to be realistic (not to mention the fact that its use of recursion came across as cute rather than profound). But despite these problems it is a fun, light film with likable, engaging leads and a satisfying conclusion, and its pro-sex work, anti-stigma message make it a breath of fresh air. In a medium where most sex workers are portrayed as either pathetic victims or nigh-superhuman temptresses, the depiction of Natalie and her friends (and the enterprising drug dealer) as ordinary human beings doing their jobs and getting by like anyone else was both refreshing and inspiring; even the title carries the powerful message that no matter what outsiders may think of the lives of sex workers, they are absolutely normal for us.