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Normal Life

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Based on the real-life story of a young working-class couple who robbed banks in Chicago's northwest suburbs in 1991, John McNaughton's Normal Life takes the classic film noir plot of outlaw lovers on the path of self-destruction to a bleak, unsentimental extreme. When Chris first meets Pam, he's drawn to the whiff of danger about her. An upstanding rookie cop, he also strives for a conventional existence in the tract-home community where he grew up. Pam, on the other hand, as Chris gradually learns after they get married, is a suicidal loner who lusts after all the things a middle-class life can buy but refuses to submit to its stifling boredom and narrow mind-set; restless and profoundly unhappy, she's unrelenting in her pursuit of thrills. Despite Pam's behavior, Chris clings to her, eventually turning to bank robbery to pay off their debts and buy a house with a two-car garage and other accoutrements of the "normal life" he yearns for. What's so remarkable about the script by the husband-and-wife team of Peg Haller and Bob Schneider is that it doesn't explain Chris's continuing attachment to Pam or Pam's source of deep discontent. For the most part the two engage in an insular, emotionally symbiotic partnership. They are presented for what they are--a mismatched couple bonded by a perverse, pathological commitment. Their twisted love is convincing largely because of the vividly honest performances from Ashley Judd and Luke Perry: her volatile, seductive, amoral Pam--an arresting portrayal that brings to mind Louise Brooks as Lulu--is counterpointed by his methodical, sensitive, haggard Chris, a willing victim of her caprices. Supporting them is a fine cast of mostly Chicago actors, including Jim True and Penelope Milford (as Chris's relatives). McNaughton's direction is unobtrusive yet knowing, similar to the penetrating slice-of-life approach of TV's Homicide, whose jittery, gritty visual style serves here as a model for cinematographer Jean De Segonzac. The white-trash decor by local designer Rick Paul brilliantly defines a tawdry, confining milieu. Normal Life, which has already been shown on HBO, is being dumped on the theatrical market by its distributor Fine Line. It deserves better. Fine Arts.

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