Let’s hope that the lead performers’ actual family relationship is in better shape than the one depicted in Haik Kocharian‘s debut feature. Starring Louis Cancelmi along with his real-life wife, Elisabeth Waterston, and father-in-law, Sam Waterston, Please Be Normal is a quietly affecting, minimalist drama about a couple in emotional crisis.
Cancelmi plays Victor, whose girlfriend Mary is six months pregnant. Working the odd construction job to bolster their finances while he pursues a playwriting career, he spends much of his time quietly brooding, prompting Mary to plaintively inquire, “Are we happy?” It’s a question to which he has no immediate reply.
Complicating their interpersonal dynamics is the intrusive presence of her wealthy father whose largesse includes buying them a suburban house despite Victor not wanting to leave the city.
“I want my daughter to be happy. Do you understand?” the father says somewhat menacingly. Not long after, he also offers to fund the couple in starting a new business.
Not long after, Victor runs into Amy (Dana Eskelson), a casual friend, who tearfully asks him for help. It turns out that she wants him to accompany her to identify her just-deceased elderly mother’s body, after which they impulsively drive out deep into the woods and build a fire, quietly commiserating with each other even while the increasingly anxious Mary’s unreturned calls prompts her to solicit her father’s help.
The father eventually tracks the pair down, angrily confronting Victor and demanding that he immediately return home.
The simple story is related via long periods of silence, with the minimal dialogue being of the decidedly oblique variety. Adding to the emotional effect are the well-composed visuals featuring many atmospheric NYC locations and the somber score by ambient music duo Stars of the Lid.
The film never quite registers with the desired emotional impact, having the feel of an ambiguous short story rather than a fully-fleshed-out drama. But the evocative imagery and subtly piercing performances provide a vivid portrait of lives of quiet desperation.
Production: Haik Kocharian Films
Cast: Sam Waterston, Louis Cancelmi, Elisabeth Waterston, Dana Eskelson, Charlotte Kelly
Director/screenwriter: Haik Kocharian
Producers: Anette Lewis, Karine Kocharyan, Haik Kocharian
Executive producers: Anette Lewis, Karine Kocharyan
Directors of photography: Haik Kocharian, Ori Lahav
Editor: Ori Lahav
Composer: Stars of the Lid
No rating, 89 minutes