MIFF Review: I Used To Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story

I walked out of I Used To Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story with a spring in my step, a smile on my face, and a general wash of warm fuzzy splendour that lasted with me for days. Jessica Leski’s joyous, big-hearted crowd pleaser is an unadulterated champion for fandom, for embracing what you love and running with it.. and we’re all the better for it! Sensational! 

To anyone who writes off being a fan as something of a detriment, you clearly haven’t lived. To be a fan is to be passionate. To be fired up about something that speaks directly to you and, for no apparent reason, makes you go bat shit crazy! There’s nothing wrong with it. I, too, dear reader, was a massive Buffy, The Vampire Slayer fan. I, too, remember clambering into the Elsternwick Classic where they screened the final 2 episodes back-to-back before they aired. I remember being inconsolable and ravenous amid a cinema full of fans like me. It felt amazing, I felt a part of something that was way bigger than me. Everyone else in the room did, too. They were fans. I was a fan.

In Jessica Leski’s (The Ball) second documentary feature, she turns her gaze on the effervescent fandom of pop music sensations One Direction, The Backstreet Boys, Take That!, and, of course, The Beatles.

We meet Elif, Long Islander and possibly to world’s most rabid One Direction fan. We meet Sydneysider Dara, a self professed Take That! tragic. We meet Melburnian Susan whose love for The Beatles shaped who she is. We meet San Franciscan Sadia, who holds a flag for The Backstreet Boys (…and daggers for ‘NSYNC).

Affection abounds in I Used To Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story as you get to experience the personal cultural phenomena of fandom across generations and how it evolves as you grow. Dara, in particular, provides an in-turn hilarious and insightful lesson on being a fan which is delivered with such passion and reverence, it becomes quite endearing.

Delving into a plethora of home videos, YouTube clips, fan art (come on, we’ve all done that at one time or another), talking heads and animated interstitials, Leski gently reveals just how deep the dedication goes within these fascinating women and how it changes over time. She draws out these people and makes broader, culturally significant statements around fandom within the film’s frame.

And that’s the point. I Used To Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story celebrates and champions fandom (as it should, as we all should). It supports your unbridled love of something that might be daggy, your sincere belief that you really know each and every one of the band members (even though you’ve never met them), and your forensic breakdown of your favourite video clip is totally the best way to spend your time. You go for it! We’re in your corner! Let your Freak Flag Fly!

I Used To Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story is a swooning, heartfelt, unbridled love letter to wholly embracing what you’re passionate about. It’s a feature full of joy, humour, intelligence and empathy which is delivered around four truly fascinating women. You’ll swoon, you’ll cheer, you’ll walk out of the cinema in the best warm fuzzy you’ll get all year!

★★★★1/2

I USED TO BE NORMAL: A BOYBAND FANGIRL STORY screened at MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL through MADMAN ENTERTAINMENT