Devoted movie buffs should be clued in to the theme of PERFECTLY NORMAL by the opening credit identifying the production company as "Bialystock & Bloom Ltd." That's a reference to Mel Brooks's classic farce THE PRODUCERS, in which crooked Broadway impresario Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel)
brought color and adventure to the life of timid accountant Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) via their partnership in a disastrous stage musical.
Renzo Parachi (Michael Riley) is a small fish in a small Canadian pond. He works at a brewery by day, drives a taxi by night, serves as goalie for the local hockey team, and that's about it. "This is a new territory you've entered here," declares a friend. "You've gone past dull." One night Renzo
picks up a new taxi fare, Alonzo Turner (Robbie Coltrane). He's a big, blustery American who immediately sets himself up as a guest in Renzo's apartment suite, keeping his bewildered host sated with sumptuous gourmet meals. Turner discovers that Renzo's late mother hid a fortune in cash inside her
collection of opera records. Renzo wants to use the money to build a house for himself--and maybe buy a dog. But Alonzo, who turns out to be a down-on-his-luck restaurant baron, cajoles Renzo into gambling the money on their two mutual passions, grand opera and fine food, by opening the
territory's only opera-oriented dining emporium. Alonzo chooses furnishings and recruits prostitutes and street people to act as servers, cooks and Rhine Maidens, while Renzo finds romance and spontaneity for the first time. But the occasional goalie is less than enthralled when Alonzo schedules
him as the restaurant's opening entertainment, singing an aria in drag--on the same night as a major match on the ice.
Any film that combines sports, opera, food and cross-dressing had better do it well. Otherwise the results will seem like Mulligan stew, an eccentric broth of odds and ends with no clear flavor. The master chefs involved here are novelist-screenwriter Paul Quarrington and director Yves Simoneau,
a former TV news cameraman who rose to prominence in the 1990s as one of Canada's most gifted filmmakers. A visual innovator, Simoneau brings ballet-like grace to both hockey power plays and the march of beer bottles on the assembly line. Through skillful use of color and decor the filmmakers
endow the $4 million production with a lush look all too rare even in movies with ten times the budget.
So why does PERFECTLY NORMAL often taste like potluck? The Mulligan stew definition applies. Too much of what happens seems arbitrary and contrived, with assorted silly things tossed in for fleeting effect, especially the transvestite angle. Co-writer Eugene Lipinski appears onscreen as a grouch
who inexplicably and repeatedly sabotages Renzo's work at the brewery. Everyone seems to know this sketchy personage is responsible for the near-fatal mishaps, but the clumsy plot device requires that Renzo gets blamed anyway. Renzo's pursuit by a passionate bohemian type, vivaciously portrayed by
Deborah Duchene, doesn't jibe with the hero's fabled dullness. His conversion from factory drone to night club eminence is not entirely effective since the character shows little enthusiasm for either job.
One of the most difficult tasks for any actor is to play "normal," and Michael Riley, making his feature debut, was reportedly instructed by Simoneau to portray Renzo as "a grey line in front of a grey wall." Riley nonetheless makes the low-key Renzo a likable little guy, but of course Coltrane
dominates the picture. The frame-filling Scottish comedian, best known from NUNS ON THE RUN and THE POPE MUST DIE, can emobody the robust Yankee spirit as skillfully as any American actor (look for his flamboyant CIA agent in the obscure European thriller CHINESE BOXES) and deserves wider
appreciation in the U.S. The supporting cast tend to overdo it, but Kenneth Welsh has some funny moments as a gung-ho hockey coach not above faking terminal illness to spur his team on, win-one-for-the-Gipper style.
PERFECTLY NORMAL opened the 1990 Toronto Film Festival, then played more or less simultaneously in Canada, Europe and major American cities, an index of the producers' faith in the project. The New York run proved a minor heartbreaker: influential critic Pauline Kael gave the picture a favorable
write-up, but retired from her long-time post at The New Yorker before the review could be published. It isn't a bad film, to be certain, but could have used a lighter seasoning and more careful preparation. (Violence, profanity, sexual situations.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1990
- Rating: R
- Review: Devoted movie buffs should be clued in to the theme of PERFECTLY NORMAL by the opening credit identifying the production company as "Bialystock & Bloom Ltd." That's a reference to Mel Brooks's classic farce THE PRODUCERS, in which crooked Broadway impresar… (more)