A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Norman is a drama about a man (played by Richard Gere) who tries to succeed at business by getting influential people on his side. It's long, very talky, and deals with mature subject matter that's unlikely to interest younger viewers -- unless they're passionate about ethical dilemmas and politics. A suicide takes place off screen; the movie implies that it's a fitting end for the character. Swearing isn't constant but includes multiple uses of the words "f--k," "s--t," "bulls--t," and "goddammit." In a brief scene, an angry man pushes another man into a pile of garbage bags while berating him. Adults drink beer and wine at parties (no one acts drunk), and the movie's plot is set into motion by the purchase of a brand of very expensive designer shoes (the designer's store, wares, and logo are shown at length). Political influence can be bought in this movie, and success is largely a matter of calling in favors from people who owe you something, an idea that may disillusion some viewers. And while the main character shows perseverance, he's not someone you'd consider a positive role model.
What's the story?
The arc of NORMAN -- also known as Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer -- is all right there in the (longer) title. Norman Oppenheimer (Richard Gere) is a hustler and a name-dropper who spends most of his life on the telephone, trying to make shaky business deals happen, groom new friends, and then connect those friends to each other. He offers to help everyone he meets, but why? Even people who know him well -- like his successful-businessman nephew, Philip (Michael Sheen), and Rabbi Blumenthal (Steve Buscemi), who heads the temple Norman attends -- doubt his motives and suspect (quite correctly, as it turns out) that taking a favor from Norman means he'll someday ask for it to be repaid. But everything changes when Norman ends up buying an expensive pair of designer shoes for prominent Israeli politician Micha Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi) shortly before he becomes hid country's prime minister. Finally in with someone who has some real influence, Norman swiftly moves to take advantage of his friendship and to provide Eshel with political and personal favors. When the press gets wind of some of Eshel's maneuvers, it's up to Norman to figure out how to help his powerful "friend" wiggle out of the consequences.
Is it any good?
Norman Oppenhemier tries to be a human LinkedIn, but ultimately his reach exceeds his grasp in this sophisticated, suspenseful, yet slightly overlong film. Writer/director Joseph Cedar is essentially riffing on the ancient tale of the "Court Jew," wherein a Jewish man meets another man as he's rising to power, gains influence through a gift or favor, and becomes integral to the powerful man's court. Eventually, however, the Court Jew angers others with his influence, and the powerful man heaves him to the curb with no compunction. That's pretty much the story here, with Norman as the Court Jew who gains Eshel's ear by buying him a pair of pricey shoes when he's just a minor political figure. Soon enough, Norman can call the prime minister of Israel his buddy -- Norman even has Eshel's private number! -- and he's the toast of New York, with every Jewish and Israeli official in sight offering a business card and an alliance.
But Eshel's friendship, if that's what you can call it, has its limitations, and so does Norman's power. Norman is hoping to strike it rich by essentially selling off part of Israel's national debt, a scheme built on top of a shaky structure of favors. If it all works out, Norman makes money, Rabbi Blumenthal's congregation gets a needed infusion of cash to buy the temple's building, Philip marries his fiancee with Rabbi Blumenthal presiding, and Eshel is praised as the greatest prime minister in history. But as you've probably guessed, it doesn't all work out -- and, as the bricks begin to tumble, it's up to Norman to figure a way out of the international catastrophe. Norman isn't exactly a great man, or really even a good man. But thanks to this sympathetic portrait, he's a man we understand, a man whose biggest dream is to matter somehow.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Norman's messages. Do you think the movie is trying to make a specific point? If so, how would you describe that point?
Are viewers supposed to like Norman? How does the movie signal how the audience should feel about him? Is he a role model?
Is it necessary to understand the nuances of Israeli politics to appreciate this movie? Would someone who knows nothing of politics be able to understand and enjoy it? How do movies that are set in complicated worlds explain those worlds to audiences?
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