From the opening moments of Rachel Lambert’s bittersweet dramedy Sometimes I Think About Dying, you are invited into a world of conflicting ideas and emotions. The bleak undercurrent of the film’s title contrasts with a whimsical font straight out of a storybook. Welcome to the world of Fran (Daisy Ridley), a very interior soul who is plagued by the paradoxical desire to both be left alone and to form a real connection with someone. Fran lives in a picturesque Oregon seaside town, not that she particularly takes notice of this if Dustin Lane’s dreary cinematography is any indication of her outlook. The beauty of the natural world around her clashes with the soul-sucking banality of her office job. She is surrounded by a cavalcade of stock characters that thrive in an office ecosystem: the office cut-up, the food sneaker, the boss who does “things a little differently” (god bless Meg Stalter). Fran uses her three-walled cubicle like a foxhole in the war of office mundanity.
And yes, as the title reveals, sometimes Fran thinks about dying – covered in moss in a dense forest, surrounded by snakes… you name it. Based on the 2019 short film of the same name, itself based on Kevin Armento’s play Killers, Sometimes I Think About Dying keeps Fran something of a mystery. The original short conveyed Fran’s thoughts with voiceover, but this feature film adaptation eschews this in favor of letting Ridley deliver one of the most impressive displays of interior acting we have seen in some time. This entire time Star Wars has kept Ridley in performance purgatory when we could have had Daisy Ridley the “oddball character actor” that she is obviously meant to be. The deep well of emotions behind her eyes as they dart around when complemented with her deliberate body language is powerful.
One of the most magical things about Lambert and company’s approach to this character is the complete lack of judgment in how she interacts with the world. Even if Fran’s morbid daydreams are a symptom of a larger issue, Fran’s introverted and macabre nature is never framed as “other” or “wrong”—we are never laughing at Fran. To be clear, this movie is incredibly funny for those who vibe with darkly funny or awkward comedy. Fran is a very honest and direct character who simply does not get charged up by the socially required office chatter that acts as a buffer to anything meaningful.
In what may be a situation that hits too close to home for introverts, Fran is seen hovering along the periphery of a retirement party for a colleague, Carol (Marcia DeBonis, delivering a barnburner of a performance in a key third act moment), who radiates “my coworkers are my second family” energy. Of course, Fran waits for the perfect moment of distraction to abscond with her piece of cake back to the safety of her desk. These situations are not meant for all types despite what society tries to force on others. This basic belief is put to the test upon the arrival of Carol’s replacement, Robert (Dave Merheje, Ramy), a more traditional “weirdo” who knows how to charm the office while still somehow proving to be of interest to Fran. Maybe it is the love of awkward silences or his appreciation of Fran’s assessment that cottage cheese is a top-tier food?
Sometimes I Think About Dying is a film of small victories. Fran does not need to have a “see the light” moment that pulls her out of her low grade depression and into the land of extroverts. Sometimes it is enough to find another person interesting and agree to go to a movie with them. Ridley and Merheje have the right level of chemistry to make their interactions sweet and awkward while not feeling disingenuous to the characters. Through Robert we also get to know more about Fran; who would have guessed she actually really likes her job? There is also the admission that she simply does not feel all that interesting, a trap that many fall into even when they are being peppered with questions by those who only want to know them.
There are so many wrong turns this movie could take into saviorism which would undercut so much of the goodwill it builds up in the first half. Thankfully, Fran retains her agency throughout this narrative and is not turned into a figure for sympathy. Robert does help stir her out of her complacency, but he is also a deeply flawed character who can be a bit overwhelming. Fran does not always wait on others to dictate what she is going to do next. One of the best sequences of the film comes from Fran’s acceptance of an invitation to a party from a friendly waitress (a very welcome appearance from Red Rocket alum Bree Elrod). The simple point of realizing that there might be a time and place where others will embrace her darker thoughts is uplifting in its own way.
The premise of the film is fairly reserved in its ambition, but it wisely does not attempt to extend it beyonds its natural lifespan. Audiences are only meant to be given brief access to this woman who may not be outwardly warm, but is completely endearing as you learn more and more about her (you have to love someone who takes such care to keep their plants alive). This is not a tale of transformation, as there is nothing fundamentally flawed about Fran. This is a tale of hope, understanding and kindness—not just from others, but also in the ways you treat yourself. Sometimes you might think about dying, and that is okay. As long as you also open yourself up to the possibility of living.
Sometimes I Think About Dying had its World Premiere in the U.S. Dramatic Competition section of Sundance Film Festival 2023.
Director: Rachel Lambert
Writer: Kevin Armento, Stefanie Abel Horowitz, Katy Wright-Mead
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Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.