A Perfectly Normal Family

 

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An admirably unsensational account of a family adjusting to an unforeseen crisis of an unusual kind.

 
Perfectly Normal Family, A
 

For her first feature, Malou Reymann has found material close to home. She follows in the footsteps of Mike Mills whose Beginners (2010) drew on his own experience of having a father who came out as gay at the age of seventy-five. In this case Reymann has, together with her co-writers, looked back to the 1990s to record the impact on the family when her father - here fictionalised as Thomas (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard) - took a firm decision to undergo a sex change and thus became the woman he had always felt himself to be. Helle (Neel Rønholt), Thomas's wife, takes the view that his action in becoming Agnete leaves her with no option but to seek a divorce. That's so even though the couple have two daughters, Caroline (Rigmor Ranthe) who seems to adjust quickly and her younger sister, Emma (Kaya Toft Loholt), who is only eleven and finds it hard to come to terms with this situation (for one thing her school friends mock her for having a father who can now be seen wearing women's clothing and living as Agnete).

 

Although the detail here may diverge from the circumstances that inspired the film, it seems fair enough to regard young Emma as the figure representing Malou Reymann herself. To a large extent events are seen through her eyes and the film sets out to be an understanding account of a difficult situation and one that totally rejects dramatising it in ways that could lead to a sense of melodrama. This treatment confirms the sincerity of Reymann's approach and the film gains too from strong performances, not least the one from young Kaya Toft Loholt. In keeping with all this, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard is careful to avoid any exaggeration when we see Thomas living as Agnete.

 

However, the good intentions yield a film which, wholly unobjectionable in tone and not without elements that work well, fails as a whole to make the strong impression one would hope for and expect. One reason for this is the structure adopted. Early on we see convincingly inserted flashbacks presented in the form of supposed videos of family life taken by Thomas when the children were very young. Initially this is a useful device to widen our view of the family, but it adds little when it is repeated at intervals. What's more, it comes to stand in as a pause before the narrative moves forward but when it resumes we are often uncertain how much time has passed and, indeed, jumping forwards in this way often misses out details that matter (we never for example, know exactly what arrangements have been agreed over each parent's right to have the children with them after the divorce). It's also the case that the behaviour of both parents seems at times so self-centred and inconsiderate of the children's feelings that this viewer for one often felt unsympathetic to them to a degree seemingly not intended by the filmmaker. Similarly, some later events occur out of the blue but in ways that one questions and these weaknesses result in A Perfectly Normal Family counting for less that it should. That said, it is obvious that its heart is in the right place.

 

Original title: En helt almindelig familie.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Kaya Toft Loholt, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Rigmor Ranthe, Neel Rønholt, Jessica Dinnage, Hadewych Minis, Rikke Bilde, Kristian Halken, Peter Zandersen, Tamni Øst, Camilla Kold Krohn Gade.

 

Dir Malou Reymann, Pro Matilda Appelin and Rene Ezra, Screenplay Malou Reymann, Maren Louise Käehne and Rune Schjøtt, Ph Sverre Sørdal, Pro Des Sabine Hviid and Kristina Kovacs, Ed Ida Bregninge.

 

Nordisk Film Production/Orange Valley Production-Modern Films.
97 mins. Denmark. 2020. Rel: 2 October 2020. Available in cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema. Cert. PG.