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Talking frankly about sex (without becoming lewd or lascivious) is among the most difficult tasks we as a society face, and arguably our failure to do so in a mature and productive manner is responsible for an unconscionable percentage of the world’s problems. And yet we continue to just not do it. Embarrassment and cultural taboos are the chief reasons, but a significant (if rarely discussed) cause has to be that we’re so bad at it. Not for nothing is there an award given annually for the worst description of sex in literature.
Even in this rarefied air, the awkwardness and supreme un-coolness of the sex ed film is beyond calculation. And one such representative of this genre that has garnered cult recognition is a product of the Boston Family Planning Project that presumably ended up in schools across America at the start of the 80s and accomplished the goal of making sex an even less desirable topic of conversation. “Am I Normal?” lingers in the imagination four decades later because it is so strangely goofy at presenting the subject of sexuality in the adolescent male. We’re already primed to laugh at that which unsettles or disturbs us, like a boggart in the cupboard, so directors Debra Franco and David Shepard make the understandable decision to leaven the awkward nature of the topic with humor. Unfortunately, the nature of the silliness is so over-the-top that it rarely works as humor and barely works as education.
To its credit, the film recognizes its challenges, especially when it comes to teenagers. Having been caught with an untimely physical reaction to an invitation from Susie (Jennifer Adelson) to go to the movies, our protagonist Jimmy (Joel Doolin) and his wrestling champion-sized belt buckle wander around town looking for sex advice like the bird in “Are You My Mother?” He asks anyone and everyone for information about these strange new physical and emotional sensations, and his advisors are a motley crew, including his best pal who sits in the school locker room reading a book entitled Great Moments in Sex, a zookeeper who admits to seeing all kinds of penises in his job (“Animal penises!” he quickly clarifies), and his own father, who compares the private parts of men and women to a baseball bat and a catcher’s mitt. (No points for guessing which is which.)
The information imparted is benign and actually kind of helpful. (Worth noting that Jimmy gets something closer to straight answers when he turns to authority figures who dispense knowledge, such as a librarian or the school nurse. Also interesting that they’re both women.) But the delivery of each nugget carries with it the blunt Continue reading DOUBLE CAPSULE: AM I NORMAL?: A FILM ABOUT MALE PUBERTY (1979) / FLOWERS AND BOTTOMS (2016)