A winning and benevolent performance from Delroy Lindo and charming chemistry between the actor and Kirstie Alley allow “Profoundly Normal” to find its bearings and keep it from drifting toward the profoundly oversentimental. Telepic’s based on the lives of a developmentally disabled couple who find themselves on their own, marry and raise a son after being institutionalized deep into their adult lives. Story is told in blocks separated by “60 Minutes”-like interviews with Donna (Alley) and Ricardo Thornton (Lindo) that establish “Normal’s” can-do spirit and allow viewers to absorb their troubled lives and know that it will all work out in the end.
The effect diffuses any extra emotional pull the story might have had had the end been up in the air. Nevertheless, this is very much a story of struggle, albeit moved to the mundane facts of life like grocery shopping, riding a bus or making simple hors d’oeuvres for a party. It tackles their lives chronologically, from moving out on their own to marriage, childbirth and the rearing of their son Ricky (Kevin Duhaney).
Only after the Thorntons start to raise their child do the horrors of Donna’s and Ricardo’s childhoods spent at Forest Haven crop up in flashback. Although their retardation appears mild in comparison to that of the kids they’re locked up with, both were treated as if they were incapable of ever learning anything; Ricardo, especially, seems to have been misdiagnosed, though “Normal” never wholly addresses that issue.
Story depends heavily on the two leads. Alley is asked to be a bit flighty, and she does so without supercilious flair. Lindo’s perf is admirably measured and nuanced.
The two characters receive the strongest support from Forest Haven administrator Charlotte Johnson (Rosemary Dunsmore), who pushes for Donna and Ricardo’s marriage, even if it means heading to Washington, D.C., where people labeled “retarded” are allowed to marry. Telepic never states where the action is set, though it most likely takes place in the Northeast.
Donna is initially set into the real world with best friend Margaret (Catherine Fitch), a woman clearly incapable of taking care of herself. Fitch plays her with a cliched assortment of facial tics and hair pulling that contrast with the assuredness of Alley’s Donna.
We’re left to assume Donna, or for that manner any mildly disabled person, can function a-OK as long as they have a loving support system.