The rise and fall of NORMAN
After over forty years in show biz, Richard Gere takes on one of his most unusual roles as nebbishy Norman Oppenheimer in the appropriately titled Norman. Painfully awkward, but yet still captivating in the role, Gere stars as a “fixer”, a guy who wheels and deals his way across New York to feel relevant in an otherwise dull life that only finds him seeking rest at his local synagogue. As the tagline calls it, it’s “the moderate rise and tragic fall of a New York fixer”. This is a man who is unafraid of risk…except for nuts. As Norman puts it, he’s “a good swimmer as long as his head is above water”. And yet this is a guy who despite starring in every scene, you never get to really know because you don’t know if what he is saying is true or just another attempt to gain a new connection.
The movie opens with Norman trying to secure some sort of meeting with Jo Wilf. Who Jo Wilf is and what Norman wants out of the meeting is never fully understood, however just as Norman does throughout the film, he is trying to use his knowledge of high-status people to worm his way to a bigwig in the city. Each and every conversation that Norman has throughout the movie results in him taking detailed notes and building diagrams to connect people in some way or another. As for what his end game is? No one knows…and it will keep you guessing for hours after the film.
Told in four acts, Act One, A Foot in the Door, has Norman, at his creepily best, stalking people until he finds the right opportunity to pounce for a conversation and hopeful connection to someone else. While maddening as it is to not fully understand Norman’s end game, Gere’s acting is so strong that you can’t help but stay with him to see where he will ultimately end up and why.
Norman’s endless desire to make connections eventually leads Norman to Micha Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi), a depressed Israeli Deputy Minister that Norman sees as an opportunity for getting a connection to Arthur Taub (Josh Charles), a New York successful businessman. After seeing Eshel eye the most expensive pair of shoes in the city in the window of a high-end store, Norman, despite not being able to afford them, purchases the shoes for Eshel as a way to make his acquaintance and ideally use him for additional connections. Little does he realize that these shoes lead to renewed confidence and ultimately take Eshel all of the way to the top. It is this relationship that takes us on a most unusual ride for the final three acts.
Act Two, The Right Horse, fast forwards us three years into the future where Eshel is now the Israeli Prime Minister. Norman’s hard work to build connections has finally paid off. After a speech, Eshel sees Norman and with such glee to see his old friend, introduces Norman to a whole new network of people…more connections! Norman is in heaven. Unfortunately, what goes up must come down and it is Norman’s desire to always make another connection that opens the door to his downfall.
After his amazing evening, he chats up Alex Green (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a worker at the Israel Consulate in New York, on a train. While she is clearly irritated at his incessant talking and desire to connect her with other people, he eventually wears her down and, once he has her attention, explains in detail (including diagrams) what he does. While his explanation at what he does will have moviegoers scratching their heads, it is Gere’s diagrams that he leaves with Green and a subsequent lie that trips him up and leads to the last half of the film where we see the spinster start to unravel.
Act Three, Anonymous donor, sees Norman starting to head south as he is asked by his rabbi and synagogue board to find a donor to pay off the 14 million dollars needed to retain ownership of the synagogue and then being pulled in numerous directions as a result of the connections made through Eshel. We also see that those close to Eshel see Norman as a liability and attempt to cut off contact with Eshel. We finish with Act Four, The Price of Peace, as Norman tries to help all of his various connections while also rescuing Eshel who is caught up in a bribery scandal with an unknown New York businessman.
Norman is exhausting and will find you wanting to strangle the title character as he yearns for that next connection, yet you will also find yourself strangely rooting for him to come out on top…whatever that means. A supporting cast that includes Steven Buscemi as a rabbi (never thought I would write that), Beast Dan Stevens as Wilf’s right-hand man, and Hank Azaria as, I think, a “fan” of Norman’s chutzpah and success, add great depth. Norman isn’t for everyone, but for those that are looking for a quirky film that will have you questioning what you witnessed during and after the film, this is one to catch.
Norman is in select San Antonio theaters this May 19th.