VIFF 2022: North of Normal

Directed by: Carly Stone
Distributed by: TBA

Written by Taylor Baker


“North of Normal” details moments of Cea Sunrise Person’s early life and teenage years. The film is based on the autobiography with which it shares the same name. A teenage girl becomes pregnant and her unorthodox father moves them out to the wilderness to live in tents where he cares for the girl and her daughter while running a wilderness camp.  Part of that camp’s services appears to be sleeping with the customers. Eventually one of the many men Cea’s mother has been with decides he wants to take her and Cea with him. The film then skips forward to Cea’s teenage years where she’s reunited with her mother after 6 years of living in the Yukon wilderness with her grandfather. The audience is left to wonder ineffectually what may have happened in between. 

Cea’s mother Michelle is played by the lovely perennial Canadian talent Sarah Gadon whose character continues to be a free spirit smoking marijuana and pursuing multiple romances, causing her now teenage daughter to rebel by seeking order and consistency, while verbally accosting the men who court her. In this older timeline, Cea is played by relative newcomer Amanda Fix to great effect. Her body language and facial cues add wrinkles to her performance that many actors fail to reach. Disinterest, disgust, indifference, and embarrassment wash across her frame and face easily and unforced. The narrative plays out fairly conventionally, it is a true-to-life story after all, but it ends rather ineffectually being discreet about the location and situation Cea puts herself in, ending perhaps right when a broader story is begging to be told. The digital cinematography by David Robert Jones is workman-like; it has plenty of lens flare, uses natural lighting convincingly without being showy, and lets the characters breathe easily.

“North of Normal” is a rather normal-looking and normal-feeling adaptation of an autobiography, its flaws are easy to overlook and don’t draw much attention, unfortunately, neither do its strengths. Aside from allowing the performers room to breathe there’s very little notable about this unique coming-of-age story that is surely more engaging and meaningful on the page.

“North of Normal” was screened as part of the 2022 edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on film on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

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