May 14, 2020

CABLE | An Extraordinary Love – Romancing 'Normal People'

"I think it's pretty obvious that I don't want you to leave."
Daisy Edgar-Jones Lenny Abrahamson Alice Birch | Sally Rooney's Normal People BBC
BBC / Element Pictures
It's hard to express just how breathlessly intimate the new Hulu miniseries adaptation of author Sally Rooney's bestselling Irish romance novel, the flatly titled Normal People, truly feels. Every moment (shot mostly in close-ups) treats the steamy teen soap opera material with such a highbrow prestige television polish. It's easily one of the more true to life depictions of young love and frank portraits of sex put to screen.

How filmmaker Lenny Abrahamson—who directed the first six episodes before Hettie Macdonald took over the last six—captures initial teen romance through explicit yet raw sexual scenes is more illuminating than titillating. What starts as a secret relationship between opposites (in terms of social and economic standings) quickly turns into an epic love story spanning many years and different locations.

Our young lovers in Marianne and Connell, played wondrously by newcomers Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal, are pitch-perfect in their first seen disaffected attitudes as awkward, very amorous teenagers who grow into flawed, somewhat damaged young adults struggling to cope with their strong feelings for one another. Their performances feel so authentic in portraying the unpredictable emotional state of young people in love.

Rooney, who co-wrote the first six episodes (while playwright Alice Birch served as the primary writer), has a knack for so vividly capturing the completely overwhelming highs and lows of being youthful. Their romance seems to thrive during moments of uncertainty and sadness. Her writing makes ordinary but meaningful experiences feel so fascinating and interesting through expressing moments of emotional clarity

Sally Rooney's Normal People | Penguin Random House
Penguin Random House
It's absolutely heartbreaking to see two such promising young people, who have yet to figure out who they are as individuals and what they want from life but cannot go through life without being together, and the repercussions that follow. Furthermore, the tawdry sex depicted advances the story forward relaying the power dynamics and distance of their relationship in any given period.

Every scene in the twelve-part miniseries is only ever really concerned with the undeniable emotional connection between our two protagonists. Any subplots or backstories explored only work to build to their growing relationship. Everything is about their love and that kind of purity in a half-hour show is so entirely novel and engrossing to watch.

This adaptation is such a charming mixture of elements—from the romantic setting to the naturalistic sexual content and the minimalistic sense of courtship—with low-key pop music choices and superb blocking. Just imagine an Irish-set version of the nighttime teen soap The O.C. with nudity and high caliber art direction.

Normal People really excels in sumptuously dramatizing what it's like the be problematically in love with someone so totally right and wrong with you at different moments of your young life. Marianne and Connell can never seem to get their timing right despite being hopelessly into each other for most of their adult lives. The series is such a beautiful and heartbreaking adaptation. It's endlessly intoxicating.

Normal People's twelve-episode season is available to stream on CBC Gem starting May 27th.

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