We all know someone like Norman Oppenheimer. The character at the centre of this Joseph Cedar production makes for an endearing lead – and vitally, one peppered with profundity, enriched by his relatable sense of inadequacy. Thing is, people like Norman are the sort you avoid, the sort that sit at the bar and strike up a conversation if you dare step into their vicinity to order a drink. But for all their flaws, and the inclination to avoid them, this feature is a celebration of all the Normans in the world. They aren’t that bad, really.
Richard Gere plays the eponymous lead role, a man with countless friends and connections, and yet inherently is quite lonely. He’s a professional opportunist who wants to lend a hand – if only someone would let him. His latest victim is Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi), an Israeli politicians visitng New York on a work trip, who falls under Norman’s spell (and gratefully accepts a pair of shoes as a gift). A few years go by and Eshel is back on American soil, but this time in a far more important roel – he;s the President of Israel, and thankfully for Norman, he hasn’t forgotten about his local friend. It’s what Norman has always dreamed about, finally accepted into a world he’s only ever peered into from the outside, but with this newfound reputation comes responsibility, and suddenly people expect things of Norman – things he simply cannot deliver.
Norman is something of a tragic character creation, and one brought to life is wonderful fashion by Gere. The accomplished actor is joined by a stellar cast too – for the likes of Michael Sheen, Steve Buscemi, Dan Stevens and Charlotte Gainsbourg also join the ranks, lending their talents to the supporting roles. While there is a poignancy attached to this endeavour, it comes equipped with a comedic fervour reminiscent of Jewish comedies such as Curb Your Enthusiasm, and the work of Woody Allen – that self-deprecating humour, and when Norman walks down the street after getting himself to a mess (not again Norm!) you half expect the jazz jingle from the Larry David TV series to kick in.
Also similar to the work of David or Allen is this inclination to veer into the surreal. Norman is a film steeped in humanity and authenticity – particularly in its somewhat barbed look into the American political system – and yet Cedar is not afraid to be creative and resourceful with his means of storytelling, subverting expectations in that regard, taking an experimental approach. But the film works thanks to the eponymous protagonist – and much of that commendation falls into the lap of Gere, who is quietly going about his business under the radar, in what is another indelible indie to come from the actor in recent years.