Monday, December 15, 2014

Movie Review: Finding Normal

Opening scene. A busy city emergency room. An attractive emergency room doctor is hustling down the hallway clutching a clipboard while talking with a female doctor friend. The friend comments that the doctor only has a few more hours to go in her shift and then she's off to the Hamptons for her new life with fiance. Just then a sick woman pops her head into the hallway, saying "I've been waiting 6 hours...please..." The doctor doesn't give her a second glance, replying, "Let us know when it's been 8." Both doctors laugh, walk away, and resume talking about her upcoming cushy life in the Hamptons.

By this we know that the main character is a physician who lacks compassion and has a high opinion of herself.

Finding Normal is a Christian movie and a very well done movie on all levels. Here is the official synopsis from Internet Movie Database.
The only thing standing between Dr. Lisa Leland (Candace Cameron Bure) and the wedding of her dreams in the Hamptons is a 2600-mile drive from Los Angeles to Long Island. However, a run in with the law in the country town of Normal, Louisiana leaves Dr. Leland with a choice--Jail or community service. Sentenced to serve three days as the town's doctor, Lisa has her world turned upside down by a man she would never expect. Quickly, Lisa finds that there's a lot more to Normal than she could have ever imagined.
Candace Cameron Bure is little DJ from the 1980s television show Full House. She has grown up to be a stunning young woman, and she is Christian. Lou Beatty Jr as the judge is tremendous and steals nearly every scene he's in.

The premise for keeping the Doctor in Normal, Louisiana may be far-fetched, but after all, it's a movie. The rest of the movie moves along beautifully in illustrating that Christian love can melt even the most compassionless, or selfish heart. Dr. Lisa sees people who have different priorities than she does, which are prayer, church, love to neighbor, and a simple lifestyle where the community comes together and shares with those in need, or just to have fun. It doesn't involve high pay, glitzy parties, or fancy cars. It involves pastures, children, God, fireflies, and genuine care for people- including patients.

The Doctor begins to re-examine what it means to be a Doctor and soon understands that without compassion and love, the medical care she had been dispensing definitely has a missing element to it. Now that this missing element had been made apparent to her, she becomes less than satisfied with the promise of her future practice as an expensive concierge doctor in the Hamptons or as she realizes, simply an expensive billing asset for her fiance who started the business.

And of course, Dr Lisa Leland has a love interest in Normal...

There is a subplot that takes little screen time but is important nonetheless. The ACLU wants a white cross standing on public property just outside town to be removed. One telling and well done scene occurs when the Doctor and her potential love interest are in his truck. He had been taking her on rounds to make home visits with some patients on the main road into town. Here is how the conversation went, to my memory-

As they pass the cross, she asks, "What's that?"
He replies, "It's a cross. You passed it when you came to town."
"What's that?"
"You mean you don't know what a cross is?"
"Well I guess so, but what's it doing there?"
"I think it's supposed to help people stop and pause for a moment, think about Jesus."
"I guess I never noticed it before this..."

John 6:44 says, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day."

The movie does a good job of subtly showing how the Lord draws a person to Himself and in the process, changes hearts and minds. That scene spoke to me personally. I had written before about visiting the Colosseum in Rome and spending a great deal of time there and admiring the architecture, history, and scenery. However, it was not until many years later when I was a Christian, that reminiscing one day, I looked at the photo of the Colosseum interior and immediately noticed the simple wooden cross sunk in the center of the underflooring. I had never noticed it before. When the Lord draws a person to Himself, suddenly the mind and the heart begins to be transformed and prepared for the important step of repentance.
What I liked about the movie:
  • The women are modestly dressed.
  • Church is held, and people attend and it is seen to be a positive thing.
  • Neighbors care for each other in demonstrable ways. In one example, the Deputy shares with the Doctor at the church breakfast that if anyone is having a hard time, they make sure to give that person the leftovers.
  • A sermon is given (it's movie-short); the scriptures are handled correctly. As a matter of fact, the preacher (who is also the judge and also the town's doctor) not only refers to "the bible" as many Christian movies do, but he reads the verse and refers to it by chapter and number, something that you will notice is rare in Christian movies. Hardly ever in a Christian movie does the preacher or a character say "In 1st Corinthians, the Apostle Paul says..." as the preacher does in this movie.
  • There is a lot of prayer seen, and prayer is spoken of and the doctor is even taught how to pray. Most happily, the notion of God's sovereignty and providence is strongly inferred and even overtly mentioned. Prayer is not done to "get" something (unlike the miracle asked for, or else,  in another Christian movie I'd reviewed, Raising Izzie), but as a way to have a relationship with God and to discern His will.
  • Jesus is also overtly mentioned. Many Christian movies will give a nod to God but fail to mention the Son.
  • Christians are portrayed as loving and sincere
Here is what one reviewer on Internet Movie Database wrote, and I could not have said it better:
something amazing happens which is eye-opening in that that you come to realize that something so ordinary is basically never seen in this genre of movie. The characters of this middle-America town are revealed to contain large numbers of practicing Christians who seem to actually take their faith seriously as a part of their life, and are nevertheless portrayed as, well, normal folks.

They go to church on Sunday, they attend pancake breakfasts where they actually socialize like normal folks, and they seem like genuinely nice people. They're not a secret glassy-eyed cult; they're not simpletons or hateful bigots who treat outsiders with disgust; they're not covert hypocrites living out endless perversions in private while breathing fire and brimstone at the pulpit... or any of the countless tropes that have been beaten into the ground for decades by Hollywood.

Perhaps most shocking, they also don't express the sort of lukewarm, formalistic faith which is the only sort that Hollywood seems to allow Christians to possess on film--the kind that makes mealy-mouthed reference to "some greater power" while never actually saying the "G" word. Instead, the characters in this town are regular folks who believe in God, and are just fine with that. They're open, non-self-conscious, and frankly, a lot like the actual people of faith in the real world.

But perhaps the most subversive thing that Finding Normal manages is to actually incorporate Christians into a romantic comedy without turning it into a religious film.
Exactly. It's a movie with Christians in it, not a "Christian" movie. Watch, and you will see the difference.

What I didn't like about it:

Nothing. It's all good. I wish Director Brian Herzlinger and Writers Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon would write and direct more films like this. In addition to Lou Beatty Jr and Candace Cameron Bure, Finding Normal also stars Andrew Bongiorno, Valerie Boucvalt, Mark Irvingsen.

Finding Normal is on Netflix, Google Play, and Amazon for pay. The trailer is on Youtube for free.


Candace's testimony is here.

3 comments :

  1. I watched this last night and agree with your review. Appreciated that homeschooling was also portrayed in a "normal" light along with Christians just being normal Christians. Also really liked reading (and relating to!) Candace's testimony. Thanks for the recommendation.
    Melissa

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    1. Great! So glad you enjoyed it. Phew, also glad to know I'm not too 'out there' with what I consider to be wholesome. Iron shaprens iron, so thanks for getting back to me.

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  2. Bring on the wholesome! :)

    M

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