Ashley Judd & Luke Perry Get It On In ‘Normal Life’ (Movie Review)

Normal LifeThe calendar year of 1996 saw a lot of big feature names get released such as Independence Day, Fargo, Trainspotting, Jerry Maguire, The Rock, Scream, From Dusk till Dawn, Twister, The English Patient, Primal Fear and many more, but perhaps none more transcending for two young actors than the movie we are gathered here to discuss today…a blast from my past…Normal Life.  This film may possibly boast the single greatest performances from both Ashley Judd and Luke Perry, but the cold reality of the situation is the fact that it’s also probably their most obscure and least-seen film of their careers.  Now that blanket statement doesn’t hold true as it relates to myself, as I consider Normal Life one of my favorite Ashley Judd films of all-time (and Luke Perry for that matter), but I’d be hard pressed to ever talk to anyone that has seen the movie before, even in the reviewer community that I keep myself so actively engaged in.  So if you have a few moments, I would love to tell you about this guilty pleasure, hidden gem I found in the iTunes store today like a treasure waiting to be plucked.  Brandon Peters kind of started this trend here where we reminiscence about flicks we love that have not made it onto the Blu-ray format as of yet so naturally I want in on the fun too!

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While I’m not even sure Normal Life saw the inside of the theaters, I do know it grew some roots on HBO back in the day and that’s where it ultimately gained notoriety and I guess a little cult following, including from yours truly.  Now I have always been a huge Ashley Judd fan since the day she posed on the University of Kentucky Wildcats hockey poster to her feature debut in the indie Ruby in Paradise, but Luke Perry on the other hand…well not so much.  I respected his work on Beverly Hills 90210, but he really didn’t grow on me until The Fifth Element as I really didn’t care too much for 1992’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  However, when I discovered Normal Life back in the early 2000’s, I had a whole new respect for the man that I would laughingly later chat it up with him about in person one fine day at LAX some many years later.

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As far as Ashley Judd goes, her career choices have always bewildered me.  Films such as this and Eye of the Beholder kind of served as a springboard for her career as she went on to star in such popular thrillers as Kiss the Girls and Double Jeopardy (another one of my all-time favorite Judd films) and even romantic comedies like Someone Like You, but then came her demise, in my opinion, as she went onto star in such duds as Twisted, showed off her ill-fated vocals a bit in De-Lovely and somehow tragically ended up in The Tooth Fairy after suffering from one terrible Bug.  WTF?!  She had such a brightly lit star over her head, and could have went on to achieve such greatness, but quite honestly I’m not sure who to blame for her poor role choices.  Was she spending too much time in Africa or was it that detour on Broadway?  Or how about that Indy race car driver husband of hers interfering with her lack of wardrobe in roles?  I’m not sure who to lay the blame on, but I do know this.  I still have hope for her.  It’s not too late for her to redeem herself, should she want to.  She’ll always hold a special place in my heart as one of my all-time favorite actresses that can convincingly cry a rainstorm anytime on cue.  All in all, I guess that’s why I wrote and recorded that song with Warrant and made the trip up to NYC to give it to her in person back in 2003 huh?  I digress.

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So let’s get back to the real reason we are all here, the John McNaughton directed crime drama film, Normal Life.  Our story is based on the real lives of husband and wife bank robbers, Jeffrey and Jill Erickson.  I guess you can say it has a sort of Bonnie and Clyde flair to it where boy meets girl and girl goes crazy and boy does everything in his power to make her happy.  Sound familiar?  LOL.  Sure does.  But seriously, that’s what I LOVE about this movie.  Ashley Judd plays an absolute nut, neurotic down to the last skin cell.  And poor Luke Perry’s character, Chris Anderson, is just absolutely heart drenching to watch while he endures the unspeakable just to “try” and appease her.  At the end of the day, all he ever wants to do is love her, make her happy any which way he can and if it’s not asking too much, maybe receive a little love back.  And wow!  Their performances are flipping outstanding.

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Maybe it’s the brilliant and tragic way in which the screenplay is penned, but in my eyes it’s the stupendous acting here that makes you want to absolutely hate Ashley Judd’s character, Pam Anderson (no I’m not making that name up), with every fiber of your being while on the flip side, make you feel so sorry for Luke Perry’s.  The guy will truly do everything in his power to make his wife happy, including robbing banks.  But you do know that while it’s not wildly promoted in the media the majority of bank robberies are successful, although lucrative in only small gains, right?  Sounds like a good time for entrepreneurship, huh?  Now you’re talking!  LOL.  However, as with most things in life, all good things must eventually come to an end.  Like any good mobster film it eventually becomes too late to get out while the going is good to live an honest living.  And let’s face it.  When you are married to a nut like Judd’s character, she doesn’t make things easy on you.  She doesn’t want to stop!  I won’t go into detail for the ninety-nine percent of you who probably have never seen this before and may eventually want to, but I think you kind of get the visual that I’m trying to proverbially paint here in regards to a downward spiral (aka falling from grace).

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I’m not sure if I am a glutton for punishment or not in life, but I’m always drawn to these kind of films and fascinated by stories where the character arcs go from rags to being on top of the world (so to speak) and back to rags.  It makes me appreciate things and people more in my life as I know nothing is ever permanent and to be thankful for what I have.  However, let’s get back on track here again.  Coupled with exceptional acting performances and the right script ingredients, you have a masterpiece on your hands, in my opinion.  And to me, that’s exactly what this low budget film is.  It’s a masterpiece in my eyes.  Now you may beg to differ and I hope you do because what fun would agreeing with everyone be?  With a gun crazy and wielding Ashley Judd, who’s naked in about 1/4 of this film, and a guy so smitten by her (how is that not believable), it’s no wonder how unattainable the “American Dream” can be for some.  Once we get a taste of what we thought we wanted all along in life it turns out that in the end we only ever wanted a “normal life.”  How ironic is that?  That’s what I thought!  However, some people can’t be happy no matter what.  That’s what Normal Life is all about and for all the reasons listed above, this is why I love it so.  It teaches us everyday important and valuable lessons such as beauty’s only skin deep, nothing lasts forever, we can’t force others to be someone they’re not, money’s not the cure all and sometimes, after all, maybe we’re all just a little crazy.  Here’s to hoping Normal Life finds its home on Blu-ray one fine day.  Thanks for the inspiration to write about this one, Brandon.

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