Requirements To Be A Normal Person (Requisitos para ser una persona normal)
Spain (2015) Dir. Leticia Dolera
What is a “normal” person? It is not something that really be defined or measured by any criteria since normal is subjective. For instance, it might be normal for someone to wake up at 4:00am every day as they work on a farm while it might be “normal” for most people to get up a few hours later than that.
Maria (Leticia Dolera) is 30 years-old but her life is going nowhere fast, no job, no social life, no boyfriend and feels an even bigger failure now she has to return home to live with her mother Bárbara (Sílvia Munt) and younger brother Alex (Jordi Llodrà). Maria believes that her downturn in luck is because she doesn’t fit in with society’s norms therefore pledges to become a normal person, making a checklist of what “normal” is.
Alex works in the local Ikea store where Maria meets his chubby, bearded singleton co-worker Borja (Manuel Burque) over a curious discussion about light bulbs. They bump into each other the next day at a bookshop where Maria is buying happiness self help books and Borja dieting manuals. Noticing a mutual hopelessness, Maria offers to help Borja lose weight if he helps her become normal.
Leticia Dolera wears many hats in this charming but safe and conventional slice-of-life comedy – writer, actor, director – although for most she’ll be familiar as the gutsy bride in zombie horror sequel REC – Genesis. Don’t let her wide-eyed, pixie-esque appearance or slight frame fool you, this is one busy and multi-skilled woman and certainly can be held up as a beacon of progress in the current climate of equality in the movie business.
There is a certain irony in how a film about challenging the conventions of social norms is a fairly pedestrian affair but this makes the film relatable for anyone who has felt like an outlier because of their weight, looks or other issues. One way Dolera faces this head on is by making Alex, not only gay but mentally challenged too, yet he is a self-confident overachiever, popular at work and on his way to finding his first love.
Maria doesn’t think she has anything going for her despite being as cute as button, possessing an amiable personality and is willing to put the effort in. All of this makes her a very likeable protagonist; had this been a Hollywood film Maria would be a spoiled, self-obsessed whiny drama queen who expects live to deliver happiness to her doorstep gift-wrapped, complete with a bow.
Borja on the other hand is more of an archetype, with his glasses, portly appearance, thick bushy beard and nerdy demeanour signposting that he is our unlikely leading man in this tale. Borja is also a nice guy, a little socially awkward and a product of his own hang ups which, like Maria he thinks is the reason his life is stagnant but as he has a job, friends and his own lodgings, that is normal enough for Maria.
Except Borja has a few surprises up his sleeve, the main one being that he lives with his grandmother, who isn’t actually his grandmother at all, but an old lady whose shopping he once carried and she started referring to him as her grandson, offering him a place to live in exchange for shopping, cooking and erm… help in the shower.
This doesn’t deter Maria and she continues to seek Borja’s advice in becoming normal which pays dividends as she scores a temporary job that puts her prior experience in advertising to use (you can guess what that is the moment the job is offered), she makes contact with an old friend Christina (Alexandra Jiménez), leading her to meet a potential Mr. Right in Gustavo (Miki Esparbé).
Like with Maria’s checklist, you can tick off all of the rom-com tropes and developments as they happen here since the script follows them to the letter. Also bubbling under the main plot is the life of Bárbara, which is equally as unfulfilling as her daughter’s but for different reasons only briefly explored.
In Bárbara’s case though, the remedy for her blues is to rebel against the normal behaviour of someone her age by doing things she never did before – like trying dope with her friends by baking hash brownies. Alex is posited as the real success story of the family since he has lot against him yet doesn’t let it hold him back in living his life to the fullest.
For a comedy film, the humour is very slight and quite predictable but inoffensive enough that it doesn’t jar with the congenial tone Dolera creates – unless smelling one’s own gas under the bed covers is your idea of bad taste. To establish its quirky edge, Dolera allows her characters to break the fourth wall as they tick off each step on their normal list, along with the use of animation and timely graphics.
In her first feature as director, Dolera shows an acute feel for pacing (the film is only 81-minutes long), but is a little restrained in following the rom-com blueprint too rigidly, save for some unique touches of artistic vibrancy. It is when she is not acting herself that the shackles come off and Dolera goes her own way with credible results.
Since Dolera is on screen for most of the time, she keeps the energy up yet doesn’t dominate the spotlight, allowing her co-star Manuel Burque as Borja, with whom she creates a lively and believable chemistry, to shine and not feel secondary. Jordi Llodrà is his debut is extraordinarily charismatic and doesn’t let his disability define him while the poignant moments are carried by veteran Sílvia Munt.
There is no paradigm shift with Requirements To Be A Normal Person but a charming, crowd-pleasing slice of confection and a hearty rally cry for everyone who doesn’t feel they fit in with the world to just be yourself. Normal is overrated anyway!