Quietly, Richard Gere is consistently making rather good movies, telling interesting stories and taking on nuanced, intriguing roles. From The Benefactor to Arbitrage (let’s just forget The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for now) – he’s tackling intimate character studies, and his latest, Joseph Cedar’s Norman, is no different.
Gere plays the eponymous protagonist, a professional chancer and over-enthused fixer – only problem is, nobody will actually let him get close enough to fix anything. Until he meets Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi), an Israeli politician spending some time in New York, touched by Norman’s offer to buy him a pair of shoes. Three years pass, and Eshel is now an influential world leader, as the Prime Minister of his native country, and when he returns to the States to meet the President, Norman shows up at a function – and they remember each other well. To have befriended somebody with such clout works wonders for Norman, and he gets involved in several local matters with Rabbi Blumenthal (Steve Buscemi) and Jo Wilf (Harris Yulin) and Bill Kavish (Dan Stevens), despite the latter not giving him the time of day previously. Though as Norman becomes embroiled in a political scandal, he’s somewhat out of his depth.
Also featuring the talents of Michael Sheen and Charlotte Gainsbourg, though this title is profound in parts, and even moving too – you always anticipate the Curb Your Enthusiasm soundtrack to kick in every time Norman gets himself into a spot of bother. You can see the influences of Jewish comedy series such as Curb, or Seinfeld too, in Cedar’s own musical selections, with a bouncy, jazzy score that feels familiar to fans of Larry David productions. There are shades too of Woody Allen, particularly Stardust Memories, in how Cedar adopts the perspective of his protagonist, and we se the myriad of faces up close, suffocating the screen, big, round heads adding to the haphazard nature of Norman’s endeavours. Also, and again faithful to this brand of comedy, is the inclination to be surrealistic and creative, and while the narrative is grounded persistently by its relatable human themes, Cedar has taken the licence to be resourceful with his means of storytelling, with a few creative surprises along the way.
In spite of the aforementioned comparisons being that of comedy, Norman is a tragic tale in some respects, as we grow to love this character, and our heart bleeds for him when he’s overwhelmed by his new lifestyle and responsibilities. The credit here lies with Gere, for he’s crafted a role that is endearing throughout, and ensures we root for him every step of the way, which is vital to the film succeeding. We all know a Norman Oppenheimer, and this film is a celebration of such individuals, no matter how flawed they may be.
Norman is released on June the 9th.