American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Sometimes a man and woman are drawn together precisely because they are perfectly wrong for each other. Consider Pam and Chris Anderson, the subjects of “Normal Life.” He is a suburban Chicago cop. She is a pot-head who works in a factory, drinks too much, and dreams of falling into a black hole so that her image is forever imprinted on its event horizon.
They meet in a bar. Pam's with a guy. They have a fight. She smashes a glass and cuts herself. The guy leaves. Chris walks over, helps her bandage the cut, and says, “Want to dance?” It's awkward dancing with your hand held up in the air so the blood doesn't drip, but she accepts. It's love. They marry.
“Normal Life,” loosely based on a real-life crime story from the Chicago suburbs, is the new movie by John McNaughton, famous for “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.” It's not as unremittingly painful as the earlier film, but just as fascinating in its portrait of criminal pathology. Just as Henry drew accomplices into the net of his madness, so does Pam (Ashley Judd) mesmerize Chris (Luke Perry). He's a straight-arrow policeman whose hobby is target practice. She's a space cadet whose hobby is astronomy and who is reading, or pretending to read, A Brief History of Time.
Pam is one of those women who is forever pushing the edges of her own personal event horizon. She is drunk a lot, hysterical, manic-depressive, and self-destructive. She tears up the apartment, mutilates herself, tries suicide and specializes in embarrassing Chris (she walks into the police station dressed in hot pants and turns up at his father's funeral on in-line skates).