Norman

Movie review by
Tracy Moore, Common Sense Media
Norman Movie Poster Image
Affecting drama about terminal illness has mature themes.
  • R
  • 2014
  • 98 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Norman offers positive messages about family, integrity, community, connectedness, and the importance of grieving.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Adults are well meaning, engaged, connected, and deeply caring. Teenagers are shown not as shallow and cliquish but as empathic, fully fleshed-out people with their own identities, needs, moral compasses, and complex understandings of the world. Though choices are not always conventionally honorable, they fit within a more nuanced understanding of the landscape in which difficult choices are made.

Violence

The film shows some images of self-harm and involves terminal illness. In one scene, a teenager points a knife into his chest, and blood drips down his chest. A terminally ill man experiences some bouts of pain and coughing and is eventually shown dying in the hospital. A teenager punches himself in the face repeatedly to cause self-harm.

Sex

The film contains some sexual humor, such as when a man makes a joke that men used to have long penises so men and women slept in different beds. A teenager jokes about "getting laid" by two of his female teachers in one day. There are a couple very brief scenes of kissing between teenagers: A girl kisses a guy on the cheek, and a guy kisses a girl briefly. 

Language

The film contains profanity in a handful of scenes, ranging from joking asides about committing suicide to a teenager's lengthy description of a suicide attempt. Elsewhere, "f--k," "bulls--t," and "goddamn" are used freely in some scenes.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A father and underage son drink scotch.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Norman is a darkly funny indie drama that deals with very heavy themes about death, terminal illness, feelings of suicide and self-harm, and grief. There's a good deal of profanity, including "f--k." In one scene, a teenager points a knife into his chest, and blood drips down his chest. There's some sexual humor, and a teen character talks about "getting laid." The film deals with the deaths of parents, and, because of its dark humor and complex, difficult subject matter, it's best suited for mature older teens. 

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What's the story?

High schooler Norman (Dan Byrd), who is dealing with the recent death of his mom and his father Doug's (Richard Jenkins) terminal cancer, decides to tell everyone he is the one suffering from cancer, and now he must live out the lie on a daily basis at school. Soon the word spreads to friends, teacher Mr. Angelo (Adam Goldberg), and his new girlfriend Emily (Emily VanCamp).

Is it any good?

This poignant drama grapples with a complex set of issues -- devastating loss and terminal illness -- against the backdrop of the usual anxieties of high school life and young love. It's incredibly well acted and very touching and has a wiser-than-his-years protagonist who excellently conveys the burden and isolation that come from managing excessively traumatic events at a young age. The film should be commended for tackling all the gray areas and nuance of suffering -- the unresolvable feelings, the ambiguities, the rights of the dying to exit as they desire -- while still showing the innocence and lightheartedness of teenage firsts (helped along by indie darling Andrew Bird's original score). But the loss of both parents, the discussions of how to live at age 18 newly orphaned, the complexities of grieving and loss -- these are big questions without easy answers, and parents may want to stick close by for any discussion that arises.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about whether lies can ever be justified in the service of something good. Through lying, Norman makes connections with his teacher and peers he previously lacked. Does this justify his lie? How so, or why not?

  • When should the rights of the dying be respected, and when shouldn't they?

  • Do you think the film shows grieving accurately? What other ways do films show the grieving process, and how accurate do you feel they are?

Movie details

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