There’s love and affection on screen in “A Normal Life,” emanating from each frame of director Alex Herz’s feature debut. Inspired by the director’s real-life relationship with his brother, who has Down syndrome, the independent drama was made when Herz was just 19 years old. The final product reflects the film’s small budget and the filmmaker’s youth, but viewers who can identify with Herz’s experience will likely be able to ignore its technical issues in favor of its big heart.
Michael (Sam O’Byrne) is due to start college in the Midwest in a week, leaving his brother, Nathan (Trevor Barella), behind in California. Nathan is high functioning, and Michael worries that his parents (Bettina Devin and Ross Turner) are unwilling to grant Nathan any independence and that this won’t improve in his absence. As Michael’s moving day approaches, Nathan begins to misbehave without being able to understand or communicate why.
“A Normal Life” lacks the standard techniques of most larger productions with its single, static camera, long takes and few edits. This approach, likely due to the film’s limited budget, means that we miss reaction shots that could help us further identify with the characters. But with its authentic emotions and good intentions, Herz’s drama will still likely inspire empathy in the more sympathetic members of the audience who can see past its filmmaking flaws.
‘A Normal Life’
Running time: 1 hour, 14 minutes
Playing: Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood