Richard Gere shows us he’s still in the game with his unusual lead role in the film “Norman.” This Israeli-American film by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Joseph Cedar is a uniquely funny and charming drama with an all-star cast. Norman (Gere) is a small-time business man who, although he tries, is always on the outermost circle of the high-powered, successful corporate heads. That never deters him from trying to connect people and make things happen, though. His life changes one day when he meets and buys a pair of designer shoes for the man who would, three years in the future, become the next Israeli Prime Minister (Lior Ashkenazi).
We meet Norman and immediately understand that he’s “a little off”—his hair needs to be cut as it sticks out over his ears, his clothes are slightly unkempt, and his slouched posture indicates that he just isn’t quite cut out to play with “the big boys.” Undeterred, Norman pushes ahead, trying to make that next (and perhaps only) big deal happen. He’s awkward in his interactions and just doesn’t seem to pick up on social cues, making the scene just that much more uncomfortable. But there’s a certain sweetness and charm about him conveying a sense of harmlessness. We see Norman who appears to be stalking Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi), a lower level Israeli politician at the time, befriend him. Not wanting to lose this “connection,” Norman buys Eshel an expensive pair of shoes that will likely break his personal bank. Three years pass and Eshel, now the Prime Minister, returns to NYC and remembers his shoe-buying friend. Norman’s life will never be the same again, but neither would anyone else’s!
The story starts off with a slow pace, carefully setting up all of the background that we need to piece this engaging puzzle together. Set in New York City, we get a glimpse into the superficiality of high-powered companies. The story progresses using acts of a play as Norman’s life unfolds before our eyes. While this is a drama filled with a certain amount of sad irony, it is also light-hearted and at times even whimsical. The situations are frequently uncomfortable, but the music accompanying the scene is cheerful, almost playful, eliciting a completely opposing feeling.
By the second act, we are fully invested in Norman’s success, but always cringing because we know he will do something “a little off.” He makes promises he can’t quite keep, but is always working people to make things happen—it’s a dominoes effect of decision-making. Norman is involved in the local synagogue lead by Rabbi Blumenthal (Steve Buscemi) which needs money to survive. His nephew, who wants no outward connection to his uncle, needs to be married by a rabbi. The string theory of Norman’s life becomes increasingly tangled, keeping you on the edge of your seat in Act III.
The writing and directing of this film has a certain unique characteristic to it. Cedar is known for incorporating symbolism into his films and “Norman” is no exception to the rule. While I am not Jewish, I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with a woman who is qualified in this area—she will remain anonymous. She explained that the concept of anonymity within the Jewish religion is for charity’s sake, to truly help someone, attaching no shame in acceptance. The film’s central theme incorporates this concept, but there are blurred lines of the definition. She also shared with me the legend of 36 just men who are responsible for preserving the world. Could Norman be one of these men? The symbolism runs deep, and as producer Miranda Bailey shared with me, “Joseph Cedar’s work is filled with symbolism and innuendo that even I—- having made the film—am still discovering. One thing that I love is that I discover something new re-watching every scene.”
Cedar showcases a unique style within the film, creating a split screen to show the characters located in different places talking to one another. Initially, this is surprising, but then it becomes quite visually entertaining as it allows us to experience the conversation and emotions more fully. Blending symbolism, unique filming style, and unexpected musical accompaniment gives viewers a refreshing and truly new film.
Gere portrays Norman with genius skill. We see him as a nobody who wants to be a somebody. With careful attention to the detail of mannerisms and body language, Gere conveys just the right level of awkwardness to give this character credibility. He finds a way to capture your heart while we are always questioning his motives. As he interacts with the characters who are at a higher social status than he, Gere’s delivery of his lines, while absolutely hilarious and completely exaggerated, are believable. We all know at least one or two people just like Norman.
The entire cast simply shines in “Norman.” Ashkenazi’s confident and big-hearted performance as Eshel is the perfect balance to Gere’s awkward and unassuming one. Sheen, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Dan Stevens, and Buscemi create more than a well-rounded cast—they create characters that tell a beautiful story about life, its ups and downs, the coincidences that occur, and the true heart of humanity. This could not have happened without the deft direction of Cedar. He brings this charming drama to life for us all to enjoy.
“Norman” is a gem not often found in filmmaking today. It creates an unusually unique and entertaining story with flare that is universal to all. In addition, there are deeper levels of symbolism allowing you to discover something new. You can’t ask for more than that in a film.
To read the interview with Bailey, go to FF2MEDIA.COM