Review: ‘Normal People’ Captures the Complexities of Young Love
‘Normal People’ stars Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal.
‘Normal People’ Captures the Complexities of Young Love
At some point in the Hulu series Normal People, Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) tells Connell (Paul Mescal) “I am conscious of the fact that we got to know each other because your mother works for my family.” Marianne’s inherent apathy betrays her honest intention of trying to put Connell’s mind at ease. It’s also the first time the unsaid class conflict in their relationship is addressed so openly.
Adapted from Sally Rooney’s eponymous 2018 novel, Normal People is the story of two teenagers - Marianne and Connell. Their on-and-off young romance takes off in the corridor of their Irish highschool in Sligo and matures, over a span of four years, as they rediscover new facets of their relationship in Dublin where they’re both attending Trinity college. During their transition from high school teenagers to lost undergraduates, Marianne goes from being a disliked, bullied outcast to being the exact opposite. Connell, on the other hand, is forced to leave behind the effortless likeability that worked so well for him in school; he’s now visibly lonely, uncomfortable and struggling to fit in.
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson and Hettie Macdonald, Normal People is a 12-episode long series that manages to remain faithful to the book. It’s a refreshing take on young love in that it brings out the unique emotional depths of its individual characters. It is as much a love story as it is a lust story.
In ‘Normal People’, sexual intimacy is not a thoughtless afterthought; it’s a transforming metaphor for power, mental health, and identity.
Sex scenes are not a bold act of rebellion; rather, a quiet celebration, an extension of the comfort and vulnerability they’re willing to embrace in each other’s company.
Despite the four-year-long passage of time, Normal People is not plot-heavy. It also only has eyes for Marianne and Connell and limits the growth of the other characters, often making them appear two-dimensional and caricature-ish.
In fact, what stands out is the tenderness with which Marianne and Connell’s ethereal relationship is portrayed. Even though much of the series is dialogue-driven, very little is actually said and we rely on Jones and Mescal’s expressions to tell us what’s really happening. So much of the cinematography in Normal People is just static shots, close-ups and zoom-ins of the characters. And while that works brilliantly in exploring their fragility, it would not have been successful without Jones and Mescal’s unique onscreen adaptability. They embody the intricacies of their respective characters with so much skill that it’s hard to imagine them in a different setup.
Over the course of the show, we become vaguely familiar with Marianne’s traumatic backstory and her personal struggles. Connell’s stunted communication skills and the challenges he faces in trying to find a midground where he can exist with Marianne are also brought to light. Individually also, they face other hurdles and repeatedly keep finding their way back to each other.
However, Normal People is not immune to the challenges of its medium.
Despite being a brilliant adaptation, it tends to lose pace at times.
Even though the writers have tried their best to crunch four years into 12 half-hour-long episodes, the narrative feels slightly jumpy in certain bits. But the transition is smooth and the experience immersive, making all its flaws disappear.
The sublime beauty of Normal People lies in its delicate representation of Marianne and Connell’s relationship. It’s an experience both visually and spiritually enriching.
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