A review of I Used To Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story
By Christina Schultz
Throughout the course of the film, we meet four legit fangirls, each pining away for a different boyband:
As their stories unfold, we quickly learn there is so much more to their fangirl-ness than the stereotypical hysteria and open display of female sexuality, but we will come back to this. The boybands fill a void in these women’s lives. For Elif, it was a connection to her new home country and a rejection of her parents’ Turkish traditions (“there are no boybands in Turkey,” she tells us). Sadia found that The Backstreet Boys allowed her to freely express herself and go against the grain of her conservative Pakistani-Muslim family. Dora, a lesbian and former Olympian hopeful, didn’t just love Gary Barlow, she wanted to be Gary Barlow; her love of the group coincided with the time she sustained a career-ending injury. The Beatles accompanied Susan through the early, happier years and later provided her comfort through the later, more difficult years. The boybands therefore represent so much more than what meets the eye, which is no doubt aesthetically pleasing.
Each woman tells such a complex, multi-layered story and this film acknowledges them so lovingly and non-judgmentally. The women are able to tell their stories authentically so that by the end we have learned enough about them to make us feel like we are their friends or therapists, one of the two. The feelings of hurt, shame, guilt, inadequacy, longing, but also of love, desire, euphoria, even empowerment all come across, as they arguably would in any relationship. The fact that these women have struggled shows that the boybands mean so much more than the aforementioned stereotypes we associate with the fangirls, although they too are subtly dealt with in the film.
The first of the stereotypes, hysteria, seen mostly in montages (reminiscent of 1964 Beatles romp A Hard Day’s Night), reveals itself on a deeper level as a sense of belonging, a communal ecstatic response to the “perfect boys” and their uplifting music. Women gather together to enjoy the boybands, making them feel part of something much greater. And even though the four women in the film love different groups, they too have similar bonding experiences with other fans. So the love of a boyband is in essence a great unifier. Nothing hysterical about that at all, really.
The second of the stereotypes, the open expression of female sexuality, which is unfortunately still problematic for some, is falsely demonized. As we all know deep down, the boybands are (unfortunately) unattainable. If anything, the fans are so devoted to their boys, that they avoid “real men” altogether. This is a common theme throughout the film. Sadia, for example, admits that Nick Carter & Co. were “the five most consistent men in my life.” Elif thinks “real boys are jerks.” In their pursuit of their “perfect” boys, they actually reject the cultural norms the bands’ music plays into. While this might sound contradictory, it is in this rejection that they empower themselves. The women’s families, but especially Elif’s and Sadia’s, do not understand their daughters’ unrequited love, hoping their girls will find a man and settle down, just like they did. But the girls do not want to settle. It might seem as though they are unable to form healthy, romantic relationships and are wasting their time in the pursuit of their idols, but Dora found her soulmate and Susan was married and had two children. Yet their love of the boybands never waned. Elif and Sadia are still finding themselves and do not want to go the arranged marriage route. In all cases, the women were stripped of the power to see men simply as objects of desire and to make their desires public on such a grand scale. The double standard robs women of their freedom and is harmful and downright wrong (but I’m preaching to the choir here).
In the end, the film fights these stereotypes and features women who have found themselves through their love of the boybands. And while they “used to be normal” (Elif’s words quoted in the film’s title), normal is boring and certainly does not empower us quite as well as dancing to the beat of our own favorite Beatles/One Direction/Backstreet Boys/Take That song.
TriCoast Entertainment has released I Used To Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story onto the following digital platforms: Amazon, inDemand, DirecTV, Hoopla, Vimeo on Demand, AT&T, FlixFing, Vudu, FANDANGO, Sling/Dish.
All materials were graciously provided to FemFilmFans by TriCoast Entertainment.