A Perfectly Normal Family – Sydney Film Festival Review

Exploring Transgender Through The Eyes Of An 11 Year Old

If you haven’t been paying attention to the news of the day recently then you may not have heard the latest controversy surrounding author of extremely popular book series Harry Potter, J.K Rowling. To boil it down to a sentence Rowling made some comments online stating Trans women were not women, which made a lot of people angry; and rightly so. For a full breakdown of the controversy and responses check out Glamours article here.

So I thought it particularly timely and important to watch the next film on my Sydney Film Festival list. A Perfectly Normal Family is the story of 11 year old Emma who’s perfectly “normal” family is turned upside down when her father comes out as transgender. The film was based on debut feature director Malou Reymann’s real life experiences with her own father as a child and seeks to tell a personal story of a family navigating this change together.

The film focuses specifically on the relationship between youngest daughter Emma and her transitioning father Agnete. A complicated relationship that is heightened through one of the most visually interesting scenes of the film. At a family therapy session Emma wraps a scarf around her head intent not to see her father as a woman . The camera places the head wrapped Emma in the center of the frame and switches back and forth between a left and right angle of the shot. The adults that talk are blurred in the background placing emphasis on Emma and cementing the idea that the story is about her experience. It also provides a levity to the serious subject matter that they are discussing which was a nice way to relieve tension.

And this film was never about going to a dark place. It was real and there were moments of drama like in most family’s lives, but I never felt bogged down in the subject matter. It did make me question why people care so much about gender in the first place though and why the same amount of importance is not placed on who we are as people. Whilst the story itself was clearly a personal journey you cannot ignore that it touches on issues of transgender discrimination and nonacceptance that are present within society as a whole. Yet these issues were almost the subtext of the film where at the forefront was family dynamics. In a way this was a much more effective way to broach the conversation at all because it comes from a place of truth and lived experience.

The actor who plays Agnete, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, is not transgender in real life. Many films in the past have received backlash for casting straight actors in transgender roles such as Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club and castings of actresses like Scarlett Johansson and Elle Fanning as trans men. In a short interview with Director Malou Reymann after the film she mentioned her reasoning behind the casting decision was that she wanted to have the transition occur across the film with the father figure starting as male to establish the shift from Emma’s perspective. With Reymann’s real fathers blessing of the film it never really became an issue and whilst it did cross my mind when watching her explanation in the interview felt genuine and her decision understandable.

The film uses home footage style inserts of the family when the two daughters were toddlers to break up scenes and move through time. It’s not only a nice touch to the aesthetic of the film but to the story building of the father daughter relationship showcasing how the dynamic has shifted through the transition. Overall there was some great camera work and combined with the realistic script and great performances, particularly from young actress Kaya Toft Loholt who plays Emma, the whole film was so natural and easy to watch.

A Perfectly Normal Family reminds us that we are all human and that navigating change, regardless of what that change might be, is a part of life and most definitely a part of being in a family. This compassionate, real, and at times heart breaking story of a little girl learning to accept her father for who they are is something I think the world needs to see right now.

You can rent and stream A Perfectly Normal Family as part of the Sydney Film Festival until the 21st of June.

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