At first, Norman may seem like another familiar coming-of-age story, but there are some dark themes (cancer, death, grieving, pain and depression) and enough insight to give it some depth, therefore setting this independent film from director Jonathan Segal and screenwriter Talton Wingate apart from the other, more conventional, teen movies.
Norman is the film's troubled main character, a bright but quiet and alienated high school senior who is having difficulties dealing with the tragedies happening in his life. His mother was recently killed in a car accident. His father is dying from terminal gastric cancer and has chosen to decline further treatment so he can spend more time at home with his only child. Seemingly unable to cope with all the challenges that he is faced with, Norman tells his friend that he is dying of cancer. The lie soon spirals out of control and he finds himself having to do things deliberately to avoid the lie being exposed.
The performances from the leads are good. Dan Byrd's portrayal of Norman is charming, and many audiences will be giving a lot of sympathy to his character that is so desperately in need of care, help and support. Emily VanCamp as Emily Parrish, the beautiful transfer student and Norman's love interest, is very sweet. The standout performance comes from the always reliable Richard Jenkins who plays Norman's dying father. The scenes where he interacts with Norman / Byrd are the film's most natural and beautiful moments.
Certain plots of the film are not particularly original; and following a strong start, the film does become more predictable towards the second half. The hallway collision between Norman and Emily when they first meet has been done countless times before, and the final moment of truth is anticipated from very early on.
In the end, Norman is a pleasant if at times predictable film. The wonderful performances and the heartfelt and touching moments make it an enjoyable movie. Its exploration of the challenges faced by young people growing up is honest and intelligent. It was therefore a well-deserved win when the director took home the Silver Hugo in the New Directors Competition at Chicago International Film Festival.