Brad Jenkins (newcomer Andrew Keitch) is a gay man who's just turned 40 and feels very single. He confides his wish to "be normal" to his lifelong best friend Julie (Joan Lauckner), who is urging him to attend his family reunion. Brad ends up going, but feels even worse being with his relatives, who are content with the suburban married pleasures of barbecue and scrabble. A bit tipsy after the party, Brad crashes his car driving home on a back road. When he comes to, he finds himself magically transported back in time. He's a teenager at his old high school, but to Brad's surprise, things have changed radically. Everyone is gay!
Almost Normal describes itself as "Back to the Future meets Peggy Sue Got Married," and that gives you a good idea of what this gay-themed comedy is all about. Like those earlier movies, it's good-natured, amusing, and conventionally mainstream in its storytelling... except, of course, for the fact that it's a low-budget contemporary fantasy intended (more or less exclusively) for a gay audience. It's also the kind of too-eager-to-please comedy (like My Big Fat Greek Wedding) that you'll either love or hate in the first 10 or 15 minutes, but if you make it that far you may find yourself enjoying the movie's low-key charm and easygoing appeal. Granted, some of the acting (by a cast of complete unknowns) is amateurish and some of the dialogue is so bad it's laughable, but the "what if?" scenario yields a few interesting situations, satisfying a fantasy notion that many gay viewers will instantly identify with: What if you could relive your painful high-school days, only this time, instead of being in the ostracized gay minority, you discover that almost everyone is gay, and it's the straight kids who are "abnormal"?! That's the surprise in store for Brad (Andrew Keitsch), a gay, perpetually single 40-year-old teacher who crashes his car, is knocked unconscious, and has a Wizard of Oz-like dream in which he's back in high school, in an all-gay society where same-sex couples have children via sex with "parental partners," gym showers are co-ed, and straight kids are outcasts. It seems like an ideal situation, but Almost Normal has a lesson to teach about growing comfortable and content with one's own sexual identity, regardless of societal expectations. The role-reversal fantasy is treated far too literally, and it's not all that clever to begin with, but writer-director Marc Moody gives it a light spin that's harmless and well-intentioned. Almost Normal is the kind of movie that is typically found on the fringes of lesser-known film festivals, but it's likely to find an appreciative audience on DVD. --Jeff Shannon