Best Movies You’ve Never Seen: NORMAL LIFE

Written by Peg Haller and Bob Schneider
Directed by John McNaughton
Released October 25th, 1996

R.I.P. Luke Perry.

Yeah, I grew up watching this dude on Beverly Hills 90210, and therefore was saddened to learn of his shockingly young death from a stroke, a few weeks ago. To mark the occasion I decided to revisit this little-known film of his, which I believe is one of his first post-90210 film roles (after he left the show the first time, before returning to it three years later).

I don’t recall when I first saw this film, it would have been on cable, I didn’t see it in the theater, but what’s interesting is that I know the main reason I would have watched it in the first place at the time is because of him, but the reason I fondly remember this film is because it is the first starring role I saw Ashley Judd in (although I’d watched a TV show called SISTERS which she had a small role in before that, but I can’t say she’d made an impression on me there) and since then she has become my favorite actress. It has been a while though since I’ve last watched it, so this review is primarily based on memory, and I will be revealing some spoilers.

So in this film, which I believe was promoted as being based on a true story, Luke stars as Chris, he’s a police officer in some small town. He’s basically a regular decent guy. In fact, it’s shown that he speaks out against a fellow officer whom he sees unjustly brutalizing a suspect, which as a result causes the other officers to turn against him. While on patrol one day Chris meets a local woman named Pam (Judd), and they quickly start dating. But it soon becomes apparent that Pam has some emotional and mental health problems, likely stemming from an abusive background. She smokes marijuana and drinks alcohol, as well as runs up debt with her wasteful spending. Although she acts satisfied when she and Luke have sex, it’s clear that she never orgasms, and when Luke tries to bring that up to her she reacts angrily, which she tends to do at the drop of a hat. Despite this and other red flags, Luke asks her to marry him and they get their own apartment together. But Pamela’s erratic behavior continues, and when Luke’s father gets sick and dies, she’s no comfort to him at, and even shows up at the funeral wearing roller skates.

Chris eventually quits the police force and, to make ends meet and continue to financially support Pam, he begins robbing banks. At first, he does this behind Pam’s back, but when she eventually finds out what she’s doing she’s actually turned on by this and insists on becoming Chris’ partner. He reluctantly allows this, and after robbing a bank together Pam is so excited that for the first time ever she has an orgasm when she and Chris have sex afterward. But after robbing several banks Chris has gotten enough money to quit doing that and to open a book store. But Pam becomes bored, she’s just not cut out for a normal life. After she leaves him, Chris is so desperate to win her back that he agrees to go back to robbing banks. The couple reunites and begin plotting their next bank robbery. But now a couple of Federal agents who’ve been investigating these robberies are on Chris’ tail. . .

I shall spoil no further, but suffice to say a story like is unlikely to lead to a Happily Ever After conclusion.

Again, I initially watched this film for Luke Perry, who totally shines in this role which is a stark departure from that Dylan McKay. He’s a moral but conflicted man, and you see how such a man could fall for a woman like Pam against his better judgment. But the breakout star is Ashley Judd, who plays the role of this mentally unstable woman with just the right hint of vulnerability, which helps the audience relate to and feel sympathetic towards her, even as she drags her and Chris’ life down the drain.

Both heartwarming and heartbreaking, NORMAL LIFE is a film worth watching.


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