Today, I did something delightfully indulgent. I treated myself to an afternoon showing of the movie Norman at the Seattle International Film Festival. Worth it? Most definitely.
First off, I had been aching to go to SIFF ever since it started about two weeks ago. It was like what happens every January around Sundance--I feel this inexorable pull, this need to just see one show, to at least experience part of the artsy fartsiness. Every year I don't make it to Sundance I feel depressed, and I think having another film festival in my backyard that I wasn't taking advantage of was getting me down.
But why Norman? Well, that's when the fangirl comes out. Andrew Bird wrote two original songs and did all the scoring for the movie. I LOVE Andrew Bird. Love love love love love love love him. So yes, that was the deciding factor for me to man up and forage into the festival. And by "forage", I mean grab a cheap student ticket and sit in a half-filled theatre at one in the afternoon. Oh yes. I am living on the edge.
Norman was fairly good as far as movies go. It centered around Norman Long, a high school senior whose mother died in a car crash and whose father is dying of cancer. The film deals with themes like run-of-the-mill teen angst about not fitting in and lying to classmates, but with darker edges of self-esteem issues, suicidal impulses, and coping with responsibility. It felt a lot like last year's Easy A, if that movie had been about cancer and suicide and starred a depressed boy instead of a precocious chick. Do I think it will get picked up for distribution? Honestly, no. And if it does, it will undergo some vast changes (unfortunately, I think Bird's score would be one of the casualties). But was it a good movie? Yes. I'm going to say yes. It wasn't great, and needed some more work to tighten up some pretty wide tone shifts, etc., but overall it succeeded.
All the credit for that success goes to Dan Byrd, who played Norman. Byrd is best known for playing light, comedy roles, like the son on Cougar Town or the gay guy in Easy A. He shows off some serious acting chops in this role, making me laugh out loud and almost cry within moments of each other. He brought an intensity to Norman that had me completely caught up in his plight. Despite showing off an ability to emote with scenes of him handling near impossible loads, Byrd still brings his unique humor, with wry line delivery that makes his character surprisingly likeable. This is in addition to some other great performances, especially Richard Jenkins as his dying father and Adam Lambert as the classic profound English teacher. Oh, and the hot chick from Everwood plays a love interest. That's probably important or something.
But on to the score. I first became obsessed with Andrew Bird my freshman year of college. When I say obsessed, I mean obsessed--I completely immersed myself in his music. And I would walk around campus, his songs my own personal soundtrack, and think about how perfect and under-appreciated Andrew Bird was, and how if I ever made a movie it would have Andrew Bird songs. So I made up scenes in my head, small snippets and vignettes, and set them to his melodic voice, dreaming of a day where he would be known (well, that, and of the day that we would meet and he would fall madly in love with me. Naturally).
I think it's important to note that in my freshman imaginings all I thought of were scenes. There was never a whole movie, never a coherent storyline. Andrew Bird's music is incredible, atmospheric, and powerful. And a little much for an entire movie.
I'm willing to make concessions on this point. My love affair with Andrew Bird's music is very intense, and that, coupled with his lack of western touring of late, left me distracted every time the music swelled. The whistles, the strings, the swooping layers of sound--they were classic Bird traits, and I found myself focusing on them rather than the action in the scene.
But, all that fandom aside, there were several moments where the music didn't fit the tone. Most notable among these was a humorous scene where father and son drink some celebratory scotch, but the addition of an insistent violin chorus makes the exchange more unsettling than called for. Once again, it wasn't always that distracting. The opening credits, scored with a whistled introduction, and two new songs (credited as "Night Sky" and "Arcs and Colombs") used during romantic interludes were well-placed. And there was a standout moment with the song "Dark Matter," which was used perfectly in the film. Makes sense, since director Jonathan Segal has cited that song as his inspiration for working with Bird.
Regardless of any missteps, it was nice to spend an afternoon with Andrew Bird. I've missed him. It was also nice to have some time to indulge my inner snob. It doesn't get much more pretentious than seeing a movie at a film festival, all because your favorite indie musician did the music. All I need is a vintage scarf and a hipper-than-thou attitude and I'll be set for life.