“Am I Normal?” (1979)

When I was a young’un, and it came time to learn about bodies and sex and all that gross stuff, the boys in my class were herded into another room, while the girls stayed behind. We watched both the movies about erections and the movies about periods, while the boys only got to see the one about erections, because it was not considered important for a young man to have any more than the dimmest awareness of what a menstrual cycle was and how it worked.

Because this was the mid-80s, we got to see movies from the next wave of sex education films, those that encouraged young people to view sexual development as natural and healthy, rather than something to be feared and denied. Sure, by the time we saw them they were already hopelessly dated and more hilarious than educational, and sure, no one mentioned such phrases as “birth control,” but God bless ‘em, they were on the right track. I have no doubt that what I watched was very much like Am I Normal? (subtitled A film about male puberty), released in 1979 with 100% sincerity by the Boston Family Planning Project and Department of Health and Hospitals.

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Am I Normal? is about Jimmy, an average kid who worries about the many changes his body is experiencing. Jimmy believes that his two best friends, Barry and Tony, have it more together than he does, even though Barry barely speaks and Tony looks like he’s on his fifth try at passing seventh grade. Just the mere presence of a flirty female classmate turns Jimmy into a raging boner factory, and his attempt at asking an entire locker room full of boys if what he’s going through is normal results in all of them falling apart in hysterical laughter, as if someone was piping in George Carlin’s Class Clown during filming.

Embarrassed but not defeated, Jimmy sets out to learn from whence the source of poorly timed hard-ons by himself. He tries to ask his father, but is unsuccessful, because for whatever reason his father is about seventy and has probably long forgotten puberty. He then tries the local library, where he asks the librarian for information “about the male penis.” The librarian resists the urge to ask “As opposed to the female penis?” and gives him a book.

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Have no fear, this is not one of those gag books, like the ones called “What Men Know About Women” and consists of nothing but blank pages. The pages in Jimmy’s book are merely backdrops for endearingly corny cartoons explaining male reproductive biology, and that you cannot, in fact, go blind or develop excessive body hair from masturbating too much. The film’s attitude towards masturbation is refreshingly casual, and was undoubtedly a relief for the neurotic adolescent male viewer–hey, little dude, jerk it if you want, don’t jerk it if you don’t want, it’s cool either way. Unless you’re Catholic, in which case forget everything about this part and go pray in a closet for two hours.

If Jimmy looks like he’s reading the book while sitting on a toilet, he is, but not to practice what he’s learning. No, he’s hiding from his buddy Tony, who mocks Jimmy’s attempts at learning how his body works, and follows him around as he gathers information, even peeping at him in a bathroom. Alas, there would be no sequel focusing on Tony called Am I Normal? A film about stalking your friends.

Though the book seems like it should have cleared up a lot of things for him, Jimmy still needs more help, so a friendly school nurse explains wet dreams to him. My school nurse would take your temperature if you jammed your finger in a locker, so I doubt her qualifications for helping young people with sexual health issues, but your mileage may have varied. However, Jimmy still isn’t satisfied, so he makes the bizarre, discomfiting decision to ask a complete stranger, in this case a guy sweeping up animal shit at the local zoo, about penis size, and if it matters how big or small you are.

Kids (and I doubt any kids are reading this but I’m going to say it anyway), if you take one thing away from this review, make it this: never ask strangers about genitals, not yours or anyone else’s. Most of them will look at you oddly, and possibly check to see if Chris Hansen is hiding behind a nearby bush with a camera crew. Some may use that opportunity to do unspeakable things to you that will result in many years of therapy and medication. Virtually none will patiently explain that everyone’s junk is different, and that you’re probably fine just the way you are. But this guy does, and the scene cuts away before we see him get fired for talking about dicks with a junior high student.

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Tony continues to poke fun at Jimmy for his refusal to remain ignorant about basic human functions, to which Jimmy responds with a speech about what he’s learned, and how he’s glad he reached out to responsible adults for reliable, accurate information. His speech attracts an audience (including the flirty classmate from earlier in the film!), who applaud him for knowing that you can’t break someone’s penis off his body like a chicken drumstick, which Tony earlier claimed was true (again, Tony looks like he’s old enough to vote, so this is alternately funny, disturbing, and depressing). Jimmy then approaches his female classmate and tells her that he’s not ready for one-on-one dating yet, suggesting a group outing with her friend, Barry, and creepy Tony the bathroom peeper instead. The film ends with the group discussing their own sexual health, which has never happened to any teenager ever.

Am I Normal? veers wildly between legitimate, helpful information and truly wacky moments, like the zookeeper scene and Tony falling into a toilet while trying to see if his friend is having a wank. Obviously that particular moment is meant to be comic relief, but is so jarringly weird that it throws off the whole tone of the film. I can’t even explain what they thought they were doing with the zookeeper scene, because again, you should not be approaching random people to talk about your bits, and I hope the filmmakers weren’t seriously suggesting that that was a good idea. Not even adults should be doing that, unless perhaps you’ve had several Alabama Slammers first.

Watch it here

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