Well-intentioned, well-acted, and handsomely appointed, this telefilm nonetheless suffers from the staginess of both its premise and plot. Presumably intended as a corrective to decades of media coverage that portrays all transsexuals as flamboyant, homosexual caricatures, Normal seems reactionary in its attempt to present the opposite side of the spectrum: a small-town husband and father who wants to retain his happy family life even as he changes his gender. Tom Wilkinson exudes quiet dignity as the transsexual protagonist, and Jessica Lange oozes just the right combination of rage and protectiveness as his shocked and shattered, but finally supportive, spouse. Ultimately, however, Normal's depiction of the sex-change process itself proves too contrived to be convincing. When Wilkinson's character abruptly starts showing up to his blue-collar job in increasingly obvious degrees of feminine attire, he seems woefully naïve to think that no trouble will ensue. Likewise, the depiction of his two children seems schematic -- a good cop/bad cop dynamic designed to illustrate an issue rather than dramatize it. The reputation (and marketing prowess) of HBO Films and the high quality of the acting talent guaranteed that Normal would be treated as a serious, high-quality drama. But, really, it's pretty thin stuff: a plea for tolerance in theatrical drag. A compelling story about a dignified Middle American transsexual doubtless exists, but not here.
by Brian J. Dillard review