I spent the weekend at the 2013 MBLGTACC (Midwest Bisexual, Lesbian, Gay, Trans and Ally College Conference) and was lucky enough to go to the world premiere of a new film, “Scary Normal.” When I say world premier, I’m not talking about red carpets and black tie, but rather a group of excited individuals gathered in a medium-sized conference room, eagerly awaiting a film that was going to represent something about them and the world that they live in. The writer/director, Jennifer Bechtel (co-writer of the film “Leading Ladies”), was present along with many of the cast and crew, ready to answer questions about the project and independent filmmaking in general. This could be the beginning of a new form of cinema.
“Scary Normal” is the story of a high school girl named Chelsea who has to deal with her quirky family and growing up. Chelsea feels that she’s too normal to fit in at home but not normal enough to fit in at school. Her stepfather makes cult horror films, and there are always strange props and people lurking around her home, making her feel like a target for social stigma, a target that gets bigger when she starts questioning her sexuality. After an incident at a school dance, Chelsea finds herself becoming close friends with teenage rebel and out lesbian Danielle. She smokes, she lives by herself (having been kicked out by her family) and is forward and outspoken, things that the sheltered Chelsea seems to want to stay away from. There is also a subplot of the film that centers on Chelsea’s younger brother, Matt, and the neighborhood children and how they experience inclusion, exclusion and differences between each other.
From the plot, this film seems almost too average, and to be honest the visuals are nothing stellar, but these things don’t take away from the overall effect of the story itself. Shot on a low budget in Champaign, Ill., the film crew relied on the kindness and resources of the town to make their film a reality. Because the plot is simple but contains underrepresented characters, it makes the film accessible to exactly the market for which it was intended: young teenagers and young adults. Bechtel was inspired to make this film because she had realized that most films that depict lesbians or any gay characters are rated R. This is a known problem among queer films, as the MPAA seems to think that homosexual situations are more racy than heterosexual ones and therefore give those films a higher rating. “Scary Normal” was designed to be available to young people and to fill the gaping hole of queer people in cinema for this demographic. Granted, it does take place in a middle-class white suburban neighborhood, but it’s a start.
Another reason that this film gave me such a positive feeling was that it is proof that any film can be made and that the world of film is changing drastically. Even though it was low budget and medium tech, the room was filled with an attentive audience laughing along and feeling for the characters on screen. It was a touching and personal film that could potentially reach out to many people, but it was also a film that showed exactly what the future of film could be. Anyone can get out there with a camera and make something wonderful, market it and help to fill the gaps that Hollywood film is constantly leaving empty. This is a phenomenon that is already happening around the country but hasn’t really gained validation with the general public. We have to realize that these films are valid and can show us a place that big budget pictures can’t. The more people who seek out independent cinema, the better funding it will receive and with more funding the films could reach the level of professionalism that we expect.
Scary Normal is an endearing film that will definitely make you laugh and could possibly make you cry. It is comfortable, close and gives us realistic conversations in a whimsical surrounding that plays with the idea of childhood and growing up (or never growing up). Bechtel is licensing the movie for free to college LGBTQA groups to help get the film out there and raise money for such causes, so hopefully “Scary Normal” will be coming to campus soon!