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A new teen drama that rings true enough

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By Joel Brown
Globe Correspondent / October 25, 2011

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As if being a high-school outsider wasn’t hard enough.

Norman’s mother died in a car crash, and now his father is dying of stomach cancer. Understandably, at 18, Norman can hardly control his emotions. In a moment of weakness during an argument with a friend, he lies and says he’s the one dying of cancer, which of course makes things worse. Soon word of his “illness’’ reaches the whole school, including the pretty girl he was just getting to know.

“Norman,’’ a coming-of-age tale directed by Wellesley native Jonathan Segal, gets most of its punch from two terrific performances.

As Norman, Dan Byrd (“Cougar Town,’’ “Easy A’’) makes an appealing and utterly convincing teenager, ricocheting from sweet to sarcastic to suicidal and back, often in tight close-up. Byrd lets it all hang out here, especially in scenes when he’s alone and trying to cope.

It’s Byrd’s movie, but it wouldn’t be the same without Richard Jenkins as Norman’s father, a doctor who has stopped chemotherapy to live out his last days at home. That decision gives father and son a lot of time together when it matters most, but also places a heavy burden on Norman. Their scenes display a messy bond that feels real.

Despite her best efforts, Emily VanCamp can’t do much with the role of the pretty girl (also named Emily) who makes the first move on shy Norman. She’s a romantic promise, not a fully rounded character.

Byrd and Jenkins earn the film its critical points, but the screenplay has too many moments that feel network-TV-bland. Norman and Emily meet when they bump into each other in the hall and he helps her pick up her books. A ditzy-artsy girl and an apologetic bully seem like “Glee’’ rejects. Sad music comes in exactly when you expect it.

Whenever Norman and his father are onscreen, you can’t help feeling that there’s an even better, tougher movie inside “Norman,’’ trying to get out.

Joel Brown can be reached at


Directed by: Jonathan Segal

Written by: Talton Wingate

Starring: Dan Byrd, Emily VanCamp, Richard Jenkins

At: Boston Common

Running time: 97 minutes

Rated: R (language, apparently; plays as PG-13)

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