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Film Review: ‘A Perfectly Normal Family’ Is a Simple Story Full of Heart and Honesty4 min read

4 December 2020 3 min read


Film Review: ‘A Perfectly Normal Family’ Is a Simple Story Full of Heart and Honesty4 min read

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Emma has a perfectly normal family until one day it turns out her dad, Thomas, is transgender. As Thomas becomes Agnete, both father and daughter struggle to hold on to what they had while accepting that everything has changed.

Director: Malou Reymann

Cast:  Jessica Dinnage, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Hadewych Minis

Year: 2020

Country: Denmark

Language: Danish

Runtime:  93 minutes

The film focuses on the lives of Agnete (Mikkel Følsgaard) and her two daughters, Emma (Kaya Toft Loholt) and Caroline (Rigmor Ranthe). The story is told through time jumps as Agnete undergoes gender transition. The film is also intercut with footage shot with a home-video style of the family from Emma’s infancy to her childhood years.

On a normal day, Helle (Neel Rønholt) tells her children that she and Thomas are getting divorced and that Thomas is trans. From there Thomas transitions into Agnete, while still remaining as Emma and Caroline’s dad. Caroline’s attitude is contrasted with that of Emma as Caroline is more readily accepting of Agnete. Emma, however, shown as the closest one to her father, struggles with coming to terms with Agnete as a transwoman.

The film is centred around Emma and her changing relationship with her dad. Emma tries her best to accept Agnete, only to begin to spiral out of control and lash out. On top of that, Emma herself is going through a form of transition as she navigates her adolescent years.

A Perfectly Normal Family truly captures the feeling of flux through Emma’s confusion. While it is clear that she loves her father, she is unable to reconcile that love with Agnete. Emma, at times, does seem to represent the social consciousness of the world as times change and people slowly become more accepting.

At the core of the film is the heart. It has to be said that A Perfectly Normal Family feels like a labour of love. It comes from a place with a genuine heart as it tries its best to tell Emma’s story. Being from the perspective of an adolescent, it is torn between acceptance and confusion (bordering on transphobia) which is believable for someone that age.

While the film does have an important message, it feels like it misses a few opportunities to explore related themes. Being an Emma-centric point-of-view, I feel like it doesn’t do justice to Agnete’s story. Not only does it skim Agnete’s transition, it neither gives resolution to Agnete and Helle’s relationship nor explores Agnete life outside of the family. The only time blatant transphobia is brought up is when it conveniently serves the narrative of Emma’s story.

While, understandably, the film may not be able to cover all bases, this approach feels lacking because Agnete does not seem to be a person outside of Emma’s story. This does affect the story as we are unable to see Agnete handle life outside of family and makes her seem slightly one-dimensional.

In terms of casting, a common criticism is that Agnete is played by a Danish cisgender straight male. This brings into question why the role was not played by a transwoman instead. However, Mikkel gives an amazing and nuanced performance, really able to show the strength of Agnete and Emma’s relationship both before and after transitioning.

Overall, A Perfectly Normal Family is a step forward in trans representation. While not perfect, it is still a film with heart told through a core message of love and acceptance. While we can ask for more from it, it does not feel fair to put so much expectation on a single film. As such, I would still highly recommend the film, even as a very simplified version of trans education.

A Perfectly Normal Family is included in the slate of films presented in the 31st edition of the Singapore International Film Festival. With a sold-out screening for its Southeast Asian premiere, the film will be available online here.

About the Singapore International Film Festival

The marquee event of Singapore’s film calendar returns for its 31st edition from 26 November to 6 December 2020. It will present 70 films by filmmakers from 49 countries through a hybrid format of both cinema and online film screenings, together with a slew of talks and panel discussions. For the latest updates on all things SGIFF, follow the festival on Facebook and Instagram.

Read more:
Film Review: ‘Tiong Bahru Social Club’ is a Dazzling Tribute to Singapore’s Oldest Housing Estate 
Interview: Emily Hoe, Executive Director, Singapore International Film Festival 2020
– Film Review: Andy Lau Brings Magic To A Cliche Story in ‘Find Your Voice’ 《热血合唱团》

An avid reader and movie watcher struggling to balance a love for life with inherent existential nihilism.
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