A Perfectly Normal Family – Film Review
What is ‘normal’ exactly, this is a question subtly posed within A Perfectly Normal Family. Here, a normal nuclear family is devastated by the news that the father is transgender. A Perfectly Normal Family delivers a tender expression of the emotional impact of transgender exploration on the children in a nuanced, enchanting tale which avoids sensationalisation.
Semi-autobiographical in nature, director Malou Reymann immerses the audience within the fictionalised world of the family, as her first feature, with carefully directed shots on the quite often stunned expressions of the daughters. This delivers an emotional punch with such an honest, slightly humorous portrayal and Reymann sensitively explores that conflict of emotions within the youngest child, Emma, brilliantly. The child actor, Kaya Toft Loholt, is so expressive that every disappointment encountered resonates. Whilst embedded within a coming of age narrative, the raw conflict and confusion that swirls around the emotional context of A Perfectly Normal Family is devastating to encounter.
With little exposition during key poignant moments, it becomes rapidly obvious that the concerns for 11 year old Emma’s capacity to manage the transition were validated. Imagine, as an 11 year old, having to navigate your way through the confusion of strangers addressing your father as your mother due to his wearing feminine clothing and Emma’s reaction and subsequent disengagement is therefore understandable. Emma is stubborn and resistant to change amidst the turbulence occurring within her life. Again, Reymann’s vision in A Perfectly Normal Family conveys Emma’s reluctance to absorb the changes beautifully.
The audience is similarly shielded from viewing the father’s full transformation initially as the camera remains at the level of Emma’s point of view who is wearing a brightly coloured full face covering in a striking scene. Fragments of the father’s body are shown instead, equally wearing brightly coloured garments, during their interaction in such a powerful, understated scene. Exquisitely filmed, such scenes will pierce an arrow through the heart of even the most cynical.
A Perfectly Normal Family excels in delivering these emotionally wrought scenes but the film belongs to Toft Loholt who captivates during her scenes even at her most sullen. A Perfectly Normal Family intercuts the heightened emotions of the present with the joyous occasions of the past for the family, using grainy, hand held camera footage. Such moments seem to be a welcomed break from the poignancy felt throughout the film but it is unclear from whose point of view these memories present.
It is likely that these may be Emma’s memories as, surprisingly, A Perfectly Normal Family does not delve into the feelings of the adults in such a scenario, there is no focus on the various procedures to be undertaken by Thomas/ Agnete or the anguish felt by their mother. Often, the adults are out of focus in the wide-angle camera scenes of the family thereby cementing the notion that, uniquely, it is a child’s perspective as the focus surrounding the transgender narrative. As such, A Perfectly Normal Family remains gripping from start to finish as it unfolds as its own pace with a child’s internalised viewpoint.
A Perfectly Normal Family retains a subtle, mature approach to exploring the daughters’ emotional response. Emma’s older sister Caroline embraces their father’s transition as it seems trendy and akin to having a new best friend. Emma, however, clings on to the past and this inner turmoil builds up subtly throughout the film. The conflict between the approach of the two sisters is fascinating to observe as Caroline admonishes Emma during heightened emotional moments of being ‘childish’ and ruining moments. Interestingly, Emma does not articulate her thoughts on the situation but the camera lingers on her facial expressions conveying that depth of emotion but it is on the football field that some of Emma’s emotions are unleashed to violent effect.
Reymann skilfully examines the manner in which a child may interpret such adult themes without fully grasping the realities and effectively being self-silenced through a lack of comprehension. There are moments in A Perfectly Normal Family which convey this angst perfectly akin to being that child upstairs hearing parents arguing in the background and trying to fathom the reason for such disharmony. Reymann captures these emotions and bewilderment for a child perfectly and seems to be an up and coming director to follow in the future after such an intoxicating impressive debut.
A Perfectly Normal Family will resonate with many through its depiction of a child striving to belong and the difficulty for a transgender parent to adapt to their new role and position. It is a transitional period shared equally between the family with no instant resolution. Rather than focusing on the societal perceptions and expectations, Reymann was focused on the emotional reaction of Emma. Reymann’s vision draws out a delicate performance from Toft Loholt as an outsider seeking that stability from the familial structure.
A Perfectly Normal Family also tackles that sense amongst the adults of being the outsider and that concept of ‘otherness’ with the subtle depiction of Thomas’ transition into Agnete and the dynamics of their future relationship with their daughters. It is an engaging outlook with very strong performances from the actors, notably the standout performance from Toft Loholt under Reymann’s nuanced direction.
At the heart of A Perfectly Normal Family is that of the family unit with the subtle question posed as to what constitutes a family. Scenes of Agnete on holiday with their daughters, challenges society’s perceptions of what a ‘perfectly normal family’ would be.
Ultimately, A Perfectly Normal Family captures that essence of familial love and the element of having to make sacrifices to protect the ones that we love. The film certainly provides food for thought and is an enjoyable but moving family portrait.