+ Recommended – TV-14, Documentary (93 minutes)
You need to watch this documentary. I’m just going to start by putting it all out there: this was an absolutely fantastic watch. It’s funny, quirky, and thought-provoking content kept me engaged all the way through. Why did I Used to Be Normal… enrapture me the way it did? Let me break it down.
This movie is adorable, and there is no getting around that. From the bubbly soundtrack to the animated transitions and exposition shots, everything is kept very light. As director, Jessica Leski takes us through conversations with the four women this film revolves around, we are carefully guided from a very sunny open, deeper into what the actual lives of these boyband fanatics entail and what has kept them with one group for so long. Clips with each of the women are interspersed throughout the film, so we don’t focus on one storyline from start to finish. It’s more like we grow closer with all of them as a whole. There is a distance timeline to the interviews, as they come in two groups spaced about a year apart.
The youngest participant Elif is in love with her “boyfriends” of One Direction and when we first meet her, she’s still in high school. She tells us about dreams she’s had of “the boys” and how she really wants to eat Niall’s special Irish soup with him. It’s wholesome and a really great place to open the film. As we learn more about which member she fell in love with first, she also opens up about her home situation and what it’s like to be a family of immigrants in America.
We then move to Dara and her boyband of choice, Take That. Having next to no knowledge of boybands, this was a real rush course on the groups and their individual characteristics. One of the more fascinating aspects of the documentary was examining what draws teenage girls to these bands and what, specifically, limits the definition of what it means to be a boyband. It questions the way real people are packaged and sold to the public, and the affects on one’s psyche.
Next up is Sadia and she takes us back to the 90s with the Backstreet Boys. Her commitment to the fanbase is commendable, going as far as writing her own newsletters “everyday after school” and hating ‘N-Stynk’ with a passion. She makes it clear that no other men will ever live up to the ideals she has formed around the members of Backstreet Boys. One of the running themes throughout the documentary is on female sexuality and how that develops as our focus points aged. The dedication these women feel for their respective groups is described as real love and it is no coincidence that most of them discovered the bands at a young age.
The final and eldest woman we meet is Susan and she is probably my favorite. Her band of choice is the OG boy band: The Beatles. Her segments discuss the phenomenon surrounding The Beatles and their fans more than the actual band. I Used to Be Normal… contains quite a bit of commentary on not only the way the bands impact the subjects of the films, but also how their families react to the bands and their love for them.
More than anything, this film is a deep dive on changing times for women in particular. There is more than a few references to the feminist movement and the whys and hows behind the commercialization of music. Almost all of our subjects feel like they are subject to more scrutinization for musical tastes than fans of other genres and feel that theme repeats itself in other areas of their lives as well. The title itself is actually repeated by almost all of the women in the film and it brings forth it’s own questions: What is normal and are any of us truly the definition of it?
TriCoast Entertainment has released the film onto digital platforms this past week (Amazon, inDemand, DirecTV, Hoopla, Vimeo on Demand, AT&T, FlixFing, Vudu, FANDANGO, Sling/Dish). Check it out and let us know what you think of this documentary in the comments below!