Norman (Dan Byrd) is as sarcastically disconsolate a protagonist as you'll see in a movie involving a romance with the new girl in school—his English teacher (Adam Goldberg) at one point refers to him as "Little Camus." Director Jonathan Segal and screenwriter Talton Wingate depict a quickly unraveling home life: Norman's mother died in a car accident not long ago, and his doctor father (Richard Jenkins) has just learned of a stomach-cancer recurrence; opting out of chemo, he chooses to live out his days in cluttered isolation. Short on friends and always looking to inflict some punishment on himself, Norman blurts out one day during car pool that he has cancer—and soon his popularity skyrockets. Of course, that's not to say that quirky thesp Emily (Emily VanCamp) didn't already like him anyway. In Segal and Wingate's hands, Norman's false self-diagnosis is something more complicated than a cry for help—it's a way for him to publicly grieve (and, as a bonus, gain the upper hand on classmates) without actually having to confront the fact that he will soon lose his one remaining parent. Although Norman, shot on location in Spokane and scored by singer/songwriter Andrew Bird, succeeds in fleshing out its troubled main character, the actions of his peers are consistently harder to accept. Would the concern caused by Norman's suicide-themed audition monologue really be limited to an offscreen "Is he OK?" Would Emily really insist on meeting Norman's father on their first date, no matter how extenuating the circumstances?
Byrd and VanCamp meet cute in Spokane.
Opens at Pacific Place, Fri., Oct. 21. Rated R. 97 minutes.