I Used to be Normal: A Fangirl Story tells the same story across several different generations; about how an obsession with a band can shape identity and reflect preferences and problems in the lives of young women. The documentary starts strong, giving the viewer an up-close look at the obsessed fans of boybands across time, but it quickly shifts focus to the adult subjects and takes on a more reflective tone. It makes this change early, and I think misses out on opportunities for exploring the phenomena of hysterical obsession with a group, and the causes behind it. It explores possible causes through the several subjects but doesn’t include the opinions of psychologists and experts who might have shed more light on the subject. The documentary keeps a laser-sharp focus on the subjects to the detriment of outside perspectives. I would have liked to hear more from parents, friends, industry experts, and the artists themselves.
In one stand out section, the filmmakers follow one of the subjects on a Backstreet Boys themed cruise. A crowd of fans gives chase to one of the Backstreet Boys as he does his best to swim away. I wish the film had more of these bizarre moments, where we can see how the values and perceptions of the subjects have been altered by their fandom.
The film is unapologetically pro-fangirl; it focuses mostly on the benefits gained by devotion to the boybands. Almost all of the narration and commentary is provided by the subjects themselves, and so we as viewer’s get sucked into their world, either sympathizing or growing more and more critical of boybands as an artistic venture. The film hardly allows us to consider whether the artificiality of boybands play a role in the obsessions they create. This is very much a film about reactions to media, rather than the structure behind media itself. However, one of the best sequences in the film is when one of the subjects analyzes the commonalities between all boy bands. I feel that in the end, this is much more an exploration of the individual subject’s lives than a deep dive into the fangirl phenomena as a whole.