Often, when life in small-town America is chronicled in film, it appears as a trap for youth, who only find happiness with freedom. This cliché slants the film away from an honest portrayal. Writer/director Mark Schwahn’s remarkably assured debut, however, is a bittersweet account of four friends searching for answers in a richly textured, multilayered setting. Even though they talk of getting out, it is not to escape but to expand. The town becomes a charming character in itself, standing still and marking time as the group examines relationships and final destinies.
Set against the backdrop of a striking factory, <i>35 Miles from Normal</i> revolves around Jimmy Lee, the former “smartest kid in detention,” who toils at his roofing job until he figures out how to use all the bits and pieces of information in his head. A former schoolmate, Madeleine, returns to town, which accelerates Jimmy’s quest for something more. Their relationship runs parallel to that of Trevor and Amy. Schwahn’s ability to blend universal questions with idiosyncratic characters and surroundings emanates from a pure passion severely lacking in most films these days. Genuine in its tone and depth, <i>35 Miles from Normal</i> captures the true, heartfelt emotions of life in a small town.
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