Sometimes I Think About Dying, 2023.
Directed by Rachel Lambert.
Starring Daisy Ridley, Dave Merheje, Parvesh Cheena, Marcia Debonis, Meg Stalter, and Brittany O’Grady.
Fran, who likes to think about dying, makes the new guy at work laugh, which leads to dating and more. Now the only thing standing in their way is Fran herself.
Stefanie Abel Horowitz’s 2019 short film Sometimes, I Think About Dying gets an amiably low-key feature-length adaptation courtesy of filmmaker Rachel Lambert (In the Radiant City), which while likely to divide audiences should cast quite the spell on those who find kinship with its cripplingly shy, anxiety-racked protagonist.
Fran (Daisy Ridley) is drifting aimlessly through life, working a dull, joyless office job in Oregon and finding little extra interest at home, where she listlessly slurps red wine and chews bland food in her tiny apartment, her eyes glazed over as she stares into the middle-distance. Every day is exactly the same, and only daydreams of her own death dare to shake her out of her mediocre existence. That is, until she becomes tentative pals with a similarly demure new co-worker, Robert (Dave Merheje), and potentially something more.
Lambert’s film is first and foremost a crushingly authentic depiction of an emotionally stunted, anxious, socially awkward individual, accentuated by the note-perfect depiction of a soul-sucking office environment. The inane banter and annoyingly chirpy co-workers evoke Office Space minus the satire; it so skillfully captures the inherent absurdity of strangers coming together and straining to be cordial, all in order to put food on their tables. And in 2023, where Fran’s job could most likely be done remotely, her physical presence in an office seems only more tragically torturous.
But Robert slowly brings Fran out of her shell and comfort zone, first cracking lame jokes on Slack and then progressing to going on a date. There’s nothing inherently remarkable about their interactions – no witty wordplay, for one – but for Fran, the mere sustained interaction is a major win.
There’s an overpowering lack of energy to the film that some might mistake for dullness, but it absolutely services the overall depiction of a life bereft of any excitement or enthusiasm whatsoever. Cutaways to Fran imagining herself dead in a forest or laying lifeless on a beach provide crudely hilarious breaks from the mundane.
There’s an eerie ghoulishness to the intentionally drab aesthetic, skillfully shot by DP Dustin Lane, that underlines the dreary nothingness of Fran’s life, while Dabney Morris’ score is defined by ironically playful, flowery, even romantic orchestral sweeps. As a result, there’s a firm confluence of aesthetic, tone, and narrative throughout, though whether that makes for a riveting sit will vary wildly among audiences.
As Fran grows increasingly comfortable with Robert, we keep waiting for the catch – the third-act rug-pull that massively complicates the matter. It never really arrives, and though there is a speed-bump in their relationship, in step with the film’s generally aloof temperament it doesn’t mutate into histrionic high-drama. Early on we see Fran ignoring her mother’s phone calls and might expect this to result in a late-stage reveal about a traumatic past, but it’s nowhere to be seen. The conflict, if any, simply involves the difficulty of opening somebody up who is flagrantly resistant to the idea. And when the story ends after a breezy 93 minutes, it does so without any major emotional overtures, merely commending how even the faintest baby steps can chart huge personal progress.
Despite its coolness and disarming title, this isn’t a bleak or nihilistic film; there’s a wonderfully enjoyable scene involving a murder mystery game at a friend’s house, which given the uproarious reaction to Fran’s hilariously morbid in-game demise, argues that a macabre mindset need not be synonymous with unhappiness. And for as much as Lambert’s film paints the office environment as painfully uninviting, it also confesses the benefits of making the most of your time in the cubicle, and how being available to others can make an undesirable experience less-miserable.
Yet Sometimes I Think About Dying resolutely hangs on a terrific performance from Daisy Ridley, who’s done surprisingly little since her Star Wars tenure ended in 2019. It’s a challenging acting assignment given Fran’s scarcity of dialogue, especially in the early going. Much of her performance relies on the wordless expressiveness of her face; staring into the void while listening to the meaningless office chit-chat in her vicinity, and avoiding eye contact with basically everyone. Watching her scrunched up on Robert’s sofa, she couldn’t seem more uncomfortable in her own skin, but when she occasionally cracks a smile in the presence of others it feels like a genuine victory, and Ridley sells that superbly.
Matching her at every step is Dave Merheje, whose nervy chemistry with Ridley results in a number of mutedly adorable moments. Merheje plays the stoic film nerd Robert with a restraint which might leave audiences waiting for a darker shoe to drop later in the story, but it thankfully never happens, and he maintains a consistent, believable gear throughout.
The naturalistic performances of the entire office are all shrewdly conceived, resulting in a believable assortment of characters who skirt clear of being caricatures. This is especially true of Fran’s cherished departing co-worker Carol (Marcia DeBonis), who in just a few brief scenes becomes the unexpected emotional lynchpin of the entire movie, serving as a warning to Fran to start living and stop coasting through her time on Earth.
Sometimes I Think About Dying won’t knock anyone’s socks off, but as a slice-of-life drama about the benefits of being open to others, it does an effective job. This aggressively low-key character piece is ably powered by the charmingly awkward chemistry between Daisy Ridley and Dave Merheje.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.