A sweet film that tries to be refreshing yet sadly follows some of the same disappointing steps.
With LGBTQ+ rights in Denmark seeming far more progressive than the UK, A Perfectly Normal Family (En helt almindelig familie) provides almost a grounded, documentary style of filmmaking to portray one family’s progression from the news that their father (Mikkel Følsgaard) is transgender. Based on a true story and winner of Rotterdam’s Big Screen Award, the film holds familial love at its core, making for a charming watch.
Everything is essentially viewed through the perspective of Emma (Kaya Toft Loholt), who has a particularly close relationship with her dad who changes names to Agnete. While it has become generic and irritating for films regarding transgenderism to revolve around someone who’s cis, director Malou Reymann is careful to be reasonably objective about Emma’s experience – there are times where we have sympathy for her dealing with a sudden change in the family dynamic yet can easily point out when she is being obstructive in the favour of a state of a stability that can no longer exist. However, it is clear through the both ordinary and powerful interactions between the two and Reyman and Maren Louise Käehne’s grounded dialogue, that she absolutely loves her.
Interspersing heavy scenes with old childhood footage of Emma and sister Caroline (Rigmor Ranthe) with Agnete filming before her transition at first made me worried that the film was trying to idealise an old and false reality, however, it refreshingly circulated these authentic themes towards a message that the love they have for each other has not changed. While each family member at first displays varying levels of acceptance (Caroline doing so instantly), Emma only wants to keep a relationship with Agnete, and with that guaranteed they are indeed a perfectly normal family. Many films regarding transgender characters have the plot dominated by oppression and transitioning, however this film thankfully decides to focus on Agnete’s different but equally flourishing life. Correlating with the rollercoaster of familial relationships, what can get more normal than that?
However, it must be mentioned that Agnete is played by talented but cis male actor Mikkel Følsgaard. This has been seen over and over again with the likes of Cillian Murphy, Jared Leto and Eddie Redmayne to name just a few, Scarlett Johansson even backing out of a project over the backlash she received for accepting a trans role. While the role in A Perfectly Normal Family is presented in realistic terms, it unfortunately feeds into a narrative that trans females are really men dressing as women, which is obviously nonsense. Therefore, it is a shame that this film did not give representation where it was due. Knowing the actor was not trans made for an uncomfortable experience that tainted the film and its message. Hiring a trans actor to play a trans role should be a given, and by doing so would have made for a far more enjoyable viewing experience.
A Perfectly Normal Family, directed by Malou Reymann, is distributed world-wide by New Europe Film Sales, Certificate PG. It is available for purchase via Modern Films now.