LAAPFF Review: ‘normal.’ (2019), dir. Mragendra Singh
normal. is the most realistic film that I’ve seen during my time at LAAPFF. There’s almost a cinéma vérité-type of reality to the film—where even the most smallest conversations have painfully real awkward flourishes in them that scrub away any witty banter that usually define film dialogue. Director Mragendra Singh captures the banality and frustration of married life with cutting precision.
Married couple Aniket (Aseem Tiwari) and Leah (Suzanna Akins) are settling into their new life as parents when they start to realize that their love for each other has begun to dull. Aniket refuses to make love to Leah after she gives birth to their child, and Leah logically starts to feel unwanted and unloved. As the two start to drift apart and invite secret flings into their lives, it becomes unclear if the two will ever reach a state of normalcy once again.
While the film makes for a great situational study grounded in reality, that cloying realness is ultimately what leads to its downfall. It’s a story that’s being told too honestly, and there’s not much that stands out from it… writing about it in retrospect months later. Though there are some great parallel sequences in the bathroom and the bedroom highlighting the loss of attraction between the two main characters, there’s not enough here for a gripping drama that will move you. While the characters are good, there’s a missed opportunity for them to expand outside of settings that we’re all too familiar with. If films are about escapism, normal. doesn’t do much to convince you that they are. At times the underlying drama even gets overshadowed by overblown moments that seem unnaturally forced (a nosy barista inserts himself into Leah’s life, for example, making it obvious that he’s supposed to be a love interest). While it’s a technically correct film that tells a story through realism, it lacks a compelling factor that will grab your attention.
As a debut feature, normal. is a solid starting point. It’s obvious that the plight of the main characters come from a real place and that they’re thoroughly sketched out. Singh would make a great documentary filmmaker if he ever gave it a shot. But as the title might imply, it remains a film that is too normal to properly enjoy.
Rating: 2.5 / 5
Film pages: IMDb
Li-Wei Chu is a recent graduate from UC Davis who majored in Cinema and Digital Media who also briefly studied film at Queen Mary, University of London. Li-Wei is obsessed with horror films (especially the ones that give him nightmares), films from East Asia, and really, any film that makes you stop and think.
He loves talking about film and indie music with others. He’s also a record collector and cross-stitches when he has free time. In the future, he hopes to be able to write about film and wants to find a job in the film industry that can support his record buying habits. Maybe one day he’ll also be able to play the guitar.