Norman’s subtitle, The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer, tells you just about all you need to know about Norman. It’s so rare that a title so fully gives away so much of a film’s content, but it feels, somehow, more than fitting in this case.
Much like its titular character, Norman is a film that wears its heart on its sleeve—above all else, it is unabashedly itself, awkward foibles and missteps clear to see by any who deign to look. The film, unlike its main character, is charming and successful; a wonderful character study of haplessness and good intentions.
Richard Gere stars as Norman, a nebulous businessman with aspirations of importance. He’s the kind of guy who takes fake it til you make it to its logical extremes. He stumbles through a series of ambush meetings in a fruitless attempt at networking until engineering an introduction to Micha Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi), a low-level Israeli bureaucrat who’s resigned himself to a life of limited success. He’s as surprised as anyone a few years later when he unexpectedly wins the election for Prime Minister of Israel. Though overjoyed by his friend’s success, Norman soon finds himself caught up in a brewing scandal surrounding the Prime Minister, which threatens whatever standing Norman has built.
Norman is played with quiet brilliance and understated finesse by Gere, lending authenticity to the role and movie. In Gere’s hands, the tragedy and comedy of Norman is weighed out carefully and equally—we laugh at Norman as he bumbles to the edge of success, embarrassed by how clueless he seems. But Norman is all too aware of how utterly useless he is; he pretends to pretend not to notice his ineptitude, but the stench of failure is thick enough that even he can smell it on himself. There’s a kind of dignity in the way that Norman turns all he touches into shit, and we cannot help but hope for the best despite the fact that we know that’s never in the cards.
He’s backed by stellar supporting cast that includes Steve Buscemi as Rabbi Blumenthal and Charlotte Gainsbourg as a woman who becomes intrigued by Norman and his business. The more people we meet through Norman, the greater our understanding of how pointless he is; the more pointless he gets, the more endeared we become to him, even as we cringe at how inept he can be.
Writer/director Joseph Cedar has crafted a delightful story about the pitfalls of networking into a world you don’t belong. To a certain degree, we’ve all tried to fake our way into new jobs or positions, but for most of us we have the benefit of hitting in our weight class. With a layered and witty script, Cedar performs a stellar deep dive that skewers our obsession with politics and business and satirizes how easily it can all go wrong if the game is played by the wrong people.
Norman is a delightful film, despite the devastating consequences foretold by its title. It feels like a return to the mid-level movie, which has been in a stark decline in the era of blockbusters vs indies. It also features one of Gere’s best and most memorable performances, in the service of a deeply original and enjoyable script. It may not win the attention of box offices or awards guilds, but it’s a film that’s highly enjoyable for anyone who sees it.
Norman is now playing in select theaters.