Beige cardigans, cottage cheese dinners, mundane office chatter, and nightly puzzles. Fran (Daisy Ridley) barely engages with the life she’s leading, simply going through the motions. Even the coastal town she resides in is doused in gray to further ruminate on the stale, nothingness of her day-to-day existence. Directed by Rachel Lambert, Sometimes I Think About Dying, unfortunately, fails to make us care. There’s too much precision and fine lines – a clinical study of a depressed young woman that lacks any warmth.
Fran passes her time with fantasies about outlandish deaths to bring sensation to her days. The world around her becomes props to help alleviate the repetition. This changes when a new face appears in the humdrum pleasantries of her small office job, Robert (Dave Merheje), whose open personality challenges her to take small, substantial, risks in pivoting from her routine.
Understand that the pacing is deliberate but the first 30 minutes drag the momentum (of which there is little) to an abrupt halt. The appearance of Robert is meant to push the story forward as Fran is given a welcome distraction, but it simply runs the course the same as before, too heavy with its patience. Even if the story itself is simple and purposefully soft-spoken, a flash of urgency in the narrative would help in greater investment. Instead, we, like Fran, are victims of the cloudy grays of this world.
It doesn’t help that there’s no chemistry between Ridley and Merheje. Again, there’s a level of purpose as Robert isn’t so much liberating Fran from her sorrowful days as much as he’s playing the role of catalyst in opening her eyes to the isolation she suffers. That said, even if we don’t hope for the two to jump one another’s bones or long for a will they/won’t they pay off, there’s still a necessity for screen partners (especially ones who are the main duo) to possess any sort of spark that makes watching them engaging.
The score by Dabney Morris verges on twee. Meant to elevate aspects of Fran’s life that are full and how they’re illuminated by Robert’s appearance. The result misses its mark of surrealism and comes off too close to cloyingly absurd. Painting in broad strokes, and evidenced later as the two watch David Lynch’s Blue Velvet after listening to the film’s score, the film is attempting a dissonance of atmosphere so that we, like Fran, float through the film’s narrative at odds with the characters intentions and what goes on around her.
Based on a 13-minute short film, the script from Katy Wright-Mead, Stefanie Abel Horowitz, and Kevin Armento fails to find its footing until late in the film, and even then the only moment of levity and genuine interest stems from a single segment where they attend a house party where a murder mystery is the crux of the get-together. In the confines of the house, there’s more movement and character play in the short sequence as adults rush to hide in bathtubs and scramble away in the dark than there is in the entirety of the film. Stillness is a virtue to many a film as frames take pains in capturing the minutiae of a moment but here it’s a detriment.
Ridley acts as a stubborn and unmovable pillar, Fran’s anxieties and general discomfort manifesting themselves through her physicality. There are a lot of pursed and bitten lips and shifting eye contact by Ridley as she attempts to add depth to a character whose rudderless nature means a stagnant protagonist. It’s a solid performance that’s undermined by a listless, meandering, script that eschews emotional depth for the sake of hollow imagery that’s expected to bear the thematic weight.
There’s a sorrowful and effective character somewhere buried here. A scene where Fran connects with an old coworker is particularly potent as she talks about how hard it is to be a human sometimes and the best thing we can do is to not regret what we don’t have or might’ve been and instead cherish the good things. It’s a shame that this insight or the energy of the dinner party couldn’t have pulsated throughout the remainder of the film.
Featured Image Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Dustin Lane
Sometimes I Think About Dying - 5/10