One of the most potent scenes in A Perfectly Normal Family is one of its most strikingly simple. Preteen protagonist Emma (Kaya Toft Loholt) has learned that her transgender father (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard) will be attending an upcoming family therapy session in women’s clothes for the first time. Unprepared to see her father, who now wishes to be called Agnete, in this way, she wraps a scarf around her head. Her vision obscured, the audience’s is too as director Malou Reymann places her camera behind Emma’s covered head.
Reymann’s decision to tell this story from Emma’s perspective is a key one. The Danish actor’s debut film as director is a deeply personal one, based on her own experience of her father transitioning when she was 11 years old, hence the late 1990s setting – there are multiple references to Britney Spears and, for football fans, the likes of Raúl and manager Vicente del Bosque. There’s much of herself in Emma, who sees the father who interested her in football at a young age – she’s now a player herself and Real Madrid obsessive – become something entirely unfamiliar. “Do you promise you’ll still be my dad?” she asks, as she finally removes the scarf and begins to embrace Agnete as the woman she is now able to be.
A Perfectly Normal Family isn’t a movie that takes great creative risks in telling its central story, but it’s the perspective which makes it so interesting and compelling. This isn’t a tale of a young trans person discovering themselves and blossoming into the person they have always truly been. It’s the story of a married father with children, who refuses to deny their identity any longer. Reymann’s script, co-written with Maren Louise Käehne and Rune Schjøtt, explores the effects of Agnete’s transition on wife Helle (Neel Rønholt) and their daughters – both Emma and 14-year-old Caro (Rigmor Ranthe).
Newbie actor Loholt is a terrific discovery, delivering a nuanced take on a young girl who’s increasingly open to her father’s new life, but also deeply confused by it and full of questions and frustrations. When Agnete takes her children on holiday and pretends to a new friend that she knows nothing about football, it’s a moment of stark disappointment for Emma, who feels as if she’s losing the parent she once knew. She bristles whenever Agnete refuses to correct those who refer to her as their mother, but these frustrations come and go as her love for her parent shines through any difficulties.
Følsgaard’s performance is an interesting one, invested with sensitivity and energy, even as the film’s perspective means his portrayal lacks some of the nuance it might’ve been required to have if Agnete had been the protagonist of the movie. Obviously, it’s a little disappointing that this is another trans woman role played by a cisgender man, but Reymann has commented on her reasons for the casting and the discussions she had with her own father about the issue.
The overriding feeling of A Perfectly Normal Family is of warmth and acceptance, with the latter earned via an iterative process. These characters do not adjust easily to Agnete’s transition, but their love and affection for their father means they are able to break free of their concerns and appreciate her decision to live her life in the open. It’s a touching and affecting movie that provides a different perspective on this sort of story, illuminating a family’s reaction to such an enormous upheaval.
Dir: Malou Reymann
Scr: Malou Reymann, Maren Louise Käehne, Rune Schjøtt
Cast: Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Kaya Toft Loholt, Rigmor Ranthe, Neel Rønholt
Prd: Matilda Appelin, Rene Ezra
DOP: Sverre Sørdal
Music: August Rosenbaum (music supervisor)
Run time: 93 minutes
A Perfectly Normal Family is in UK cinemas and streaming from 2nd October.