Sundance: “SOMETIMES I THINK ABOUT DYING”

In director Rachel Lambert’s “Sometimes I Think About Dying,” Daisy Ridley’s Fran is there, but she isn’t there. Life is moving, but not forward. Existing is questionable.

Adapted from a 2019 short film, one that was based on the play “Killers” by Kevin Armento, Lambert’s film gives Daisy Ridley the proper role to showcase her impressive talents in.

In a dreary Oregon town that feels as if it is actively trying to drain the life from itself, we meet Ridley’s Fran, a woman who seems to be alone everywhere she goes. Surrounded by coworkers or at home in her gloomy apartment, Fran’s life is painted with a drab and neutral brush. No day is welcomed, and her work environment is almost more boring and tedious as being alive.

Fran’s workday is spent at her computer thinking about death and wandering the office like a ghost, her coworkers rarely acknowledging her presence beyond a nod or a smile.

After a member of her office retires, new hire Robert (Dave Merheje) joins the company to replace the position. When Robert asks Fran for help with a work order, it opens the door to communication (or her cautious version of it) and the two go see a film together.

Robert and Fran are two people who navigate their existence in different ways. While Robert’s life seems to be in flux, Fran’s has stopped. Robert wants to experience the pleasures of being alive while Fran wishes she could, sort of.

The screenplay (written by Stefanie Abel Horowitz, Katy Wright-Mead, and Kevin Armento) is smart in its design of these two characters. Robert is surprised by Fran’s directness on certain topics while she seems reluctant to go deep about herself and keeps saying, “I’m not that interesting.”

When Robert asks if she was ever in love, the question only frustrates her and closes the door on a moment between them.

“Sometimes I Think About Dying” allows Ridley a chance to act with her expressive face, where she frames Fran’s anxieties. There may be more going on inside her head that even she is aware of, but nothing is telegraphed in her wonderfully natural and controlled performance.

Dave Merheje (a standup comedian in life) matches Ridley’s internal performance with his character’s sweetness. Robert reveals his own baggage as well and Merheje brings off his awkwardness and desire for connection extremely well.

If Fran fails to see herself as appealing, she will color her vision of the world in the same fashion. Director Lambert and her cinematographer Dustin Lane pull off the visual representations of Fran’s outlook and subconscious through odd framing and oblique imagery. The off-color look of the film has purpose and is used in just the right ways.

One of the biggest delights is the beautiful score from Dabney Morris. Inside a film where the main character lives in a bleak world, Morris wrote bright and fanciful compositions that may hint at the happier life Fran just might be aspiring to. The wonderful score brings the right amount of optimism to the film.

“Sometimes I Think About Dying is an honest character piece. While I feel the screenplay could have gone deeper into Fran and why she is the way she is, Daisy Ridley’s performance tells us all we need to know for the short time we spend with her.

Fran just wants to be understood. Maybe Robert can be that person for her.

The film doesn’t tie everything into a nice bow. It doesn’t need to. The powerfully moving final shot gives us hope for the main character. We have been let in as much as we need and like the finale of Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation,” beyond that is none of our business.

I think Fran will be okay.

 

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