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12 Movie Moments of 2012: “You’d Love My Boyfriend, He’s a Total Chick Flick Nut” (ParaNorman)

As well as counting down the top twelve films, I’m also going to count down my top twelve movie related “moments” of 2012. The term “moment” is elastic, so expect some crazy nonsense here. And, as usual, I accept that my taste is completely absurd, so I fully expect you to disagree. With that in mind, this is #7

I’m normally hesitant to involve politics in this blog. It is, after all, a blog about popular culture. Indeed, I am the first to complain about obnoxious celebrities standing on their soapbox espousing their political beliefs. It’s not that I disagree with them, or that they aren’t entitled to their opinion, I’m just uncomfortable with the idea that being famous makes you an expert to speak on a particular cause or issue. Still, in the spirit of Christmas, allow me one small digression.

That said, I couldn’t help but smile at the climax to ParaNorman, a solidly entertaining family adventure that took its own message to heart. Embracing the idea that there’s nothing scary about something just because it’s different than you, it earned the wrath of the extreme right because it dared to suggest that one of its character might be in a loving and stable homosexual relationship. It’s great to see a family film actual acknowledge that sort of diversity, particularly in a way that doesn’t sensationalise the matter in hand. It’s a damn funny one-liner to boot, and the fact that it’s willing to call the audience on their assumptions is particularly endearing.

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ParaNorman is the story about a little boy who is “different” in the way that most child protagonists are different. He is different” in a fantastical sort of way, rather than a more “realistic” sort of way that a child might feel different than their peer group. In this instance, he can see dead people. Everyone in town thinks that he’s weird, and even his own father is uncomfortable with Norman’s unique talents. Inevitably, Norman uses his gifts to save the town and the people learn that they don’t need to fear those that are different from them.

It’s a fairly conventional moral, especially for a film aimed at kids. After all, tolerance is something that you can never really have enough of. However, what distinguishes ParaNorman is the way that it dares to put its money where its mouth is, and to actually explore what tolerance means. In one particularly inspired subplot, the movie turns expectations on their head by portraying a bunch of innocent zombies victimised by terrified town folk. It’s a delightful sequence that turns the zombie genre on its head.

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And then there’s a superb final twist. Norman’s sister, Courtney, has a crush on one of their merry gang, Mitch. Mitch is a stereotypical jock. He’s not the brightest bulb in the… er… wherever one chooses to keep bulbs… and he has some pretty mean muscle mass. He’s a good soul, though, and – like everybody else – he does his bit to help the group through the worst of it. And, having saved the world, Courtney finally asks him if he’d like to go to see a romantic comedy with her. “Sure,” he replies. “You’re gonna love my boyfriend. He’s like a total chick-flick nut.”

It’s a great moment for several reasons. First, as mentioned above, it turns our expectations on their head. It’s a joke at Courtney’s expense, but probably at the expense of most of the audience as well. Like Courtney, most movie-goers probably jumped to conclusions about Mitch based on his physical appearance his characterisation, making us somewhat complicit in Courtney’s misreading of the situation. It gets us to second-guess our preconceived notions, which is something that very few family films are willing to commit to, and it deserves credit for that.

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Second, it actually follows through on the theme of the film. “Tolerance” is a great word to throw around if you want to make a film seem deep, but it’s easy to dilute the word by keeping the film abstract. Sure, it’s fun to learn not to pre-judge a zombie or a kid who can see dead people, but that’s not something most of us do on a daily basis. While it’s not a bad idea in theory, I’m not sure exactly sure the world would be a much better place if only more people tolerated zombies. It is always good to suggest a practical application of an abstract idea like “tolerance”, if you are going to base your movie on a moral point.

However, I can understand why so many other movies tend to avoid actually explaining that tolerance might have some more practical application. Politics is a thorny issue for blockbusters, and the right-wing is always prone to bouts of moral outrage. That doesn’t justify the studios’ unwillingness to tackle homophobia straight-on, but it does explain why they are reluctant to do so. It’s nice to see that ParaNorman actually has the courage of its conviction. If you want to teach kids not to hate people who are different than them, it’s always good to actually show people who are outside the “norm.”

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Finally, ParaNorman simply doesn’t make a big deal of it, which I think is important for kids. Mitch is gay. That’s it. It isn’t the only aspect of the character, and it doesn’t define him. He just happens to like guys instead of girls. The whole scene is over in less time than it takes to read this paragraph. Mitch’s sexuality isn’t some strange quirk or something that needs a lot of explanation. It’s part of who he is, but it’s easy enough to understand, and it isn’t all that he is. I really fail to see how that concept is so difficult to explain to children. Instead of a girlfriend, he has a boyfriend. Instead of a wife, he has a husband. It’s that simple.

Mitch’s sexuality is obvious a big deal to him, and a big part of who he is, but it’s not something that really concerns anybody else. I think that’s the best thing about ParaNorman, and it’s something I’d like to see a bit more of in cinema. It is worth noting, this year also gave us another nice gay moment in Jeff Who Lives at Home where the revelation of a character’s sexuality was a similar non-issue. You love who you love, and that’s that.

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Anyway, I don’t normally like to get too political on here, but I really appreciated the fact that ParaNorman dealt with the idea of “tolerance” in a way that was not only smart, but also remarkably funny.

Check out our other movie moments of 2012:

12. We Built This City (Rock of Ages)

11. September (Intouchables)

10. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Dark Knight Rises, Premium Rush, Looper)

09. Throwing the toys together (The Avengers)

08. Running (Shame)

07. “You’d love my boyfriend, he’s a total chick flick nut.” (ParaNorman)

06. The Dark Knight Returns (The Dark Knight Rises)

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