Dragon’s Review: Sometimes I Think About Dying — Daisy Ridley, Dave Merheje, Director Rachel Lambert — Sundance Film Festival 2023
Truth in advertising — Except they couldn’t even get THAT part right! ‘Sometimes I Think About Dying’ seemingly gives away its big spoiler in the title of the film itself, but fundamentally undercuts even that most basic of concepts.
Director Rachel Lambert’s third feature film starts with an interesting premise and tagline, but quickly dissipates into the ether of artistic flatulence. ‘Silent, but deadly’ isn’t just how Daisy Ridley’s character sees herself — it’s how the audience feels after losing 93 minutes of their life to watching this wet fart of a film.
The Plot — Sometimes I Think About Dying
Fran Larsen controls her life, down to the minute. She gets up on time, walks to work at the office, and hits the sack at precisely 10:15 P.M.
Fran, played by Star Wars’ Daisy Ridley, may not live an outwardly exciting or fulfilling life; but its ordered and purposeful. She sits at her cubicle, participates in all the intra-office pleasantries, and gets her work done in a professional and expedient manner.
During her downtime at the office, Fran eavesdrops on her co-workers’ mundane conversations. She takes note of, but does not partake in the chit chat that makes the day go by faster, and helps build staff cohesion. Fran knows all about her office mates, even if she doesn’t actively engage them.
Fran knows all about Carol’s upcoming retirement. Carol, played by ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’s Marcia DeBonis, has the cubicle right in Fran’s line of sight; and doesn’t hide her excitement of her impending retirement cruise. She energetically gives away her office supplies, and says her ‘good-bye’s to the people she spent years of her life with. And, Fran listens to every word.
At Carol’s going away party, Fran stands quietly; before quickly grabbing a piece of cake and retreating to her desk. By the end of the day, Carol is gone; and Fran listens to the silence of Carol’s departure.
The next day, Robert takes the office by storm. Carol’s replacement, Robert, played by Dave Merheje, impresses his new workmates with his energy, sense of humor, and big city pedigree.
Robert settles into Carol’s old desk, but instead of looking past the desk; Fran looks intently at the man. A few awkward conversations and emails leads to an invitation. The new guy’s invitation to hang out socially after work gets accepted by Fran. Whether or not the event is a ‘date’ in the romantic sense, however, is still up for debate.
The Good — Sometimes I Think Of Dying
As a native of the Pacific Northwest, I recognize the dark skies and heavily diffused natural light seen in this film all too well. I don’t know if it was a conscious decision to set the movie about a woman with a flat affect in Astoria, Oregon, or if it was just pure coincidence; but the combination makes perfect sense.
Adding to the sense of anxiety and unease from Cinematographer Dustin Lane are extended wide shots filmed from far away, and extreme closeups of Fran that are slightly off center/frame/misaligned. Shooting the wide shots with a telephoto lens gives the audience a feeling of unease, as if spying on Fran while out in public. The extreme closeups quite literally get up into Fran’s face, also adding to the feeling of intrusion, and unease even more.
Combine these framing techniques with the dark, diffuse outdoor lighting, and the tough-on-the-eyes fluorescent lighting; and you get a shooting style that makes the audience feel Fran’s discomfort around other people.
The Bad — Sometimes I Think Of Dying
The Bad Directing could easily be combined with bad Producing and bad Writing, but the blame for this lies squarely on the shoulders of Director Rachel Lambert.
Lambert’s indecisive Directing style never clarifies the point of the story, the background history of our main character, or even what Fran wants as character. Fran is not only our main character and point-of-view character, she’s the only character played by an actor most people will recognize. And, adding death into the equation in a non-specific way just confuses everything further.
We never find out what Fran’s deal is. Is she depressed? Does she suffer from anxiety, or Seasonal Affective Disorder? Or, has she been abused or had a complicated personal history before? We never find out why this physically attractive, intelligent, single woman with no children has such a hard time functioning socially in the workplace and in the dating world.
Without any history to go on, or knowing what Fran’s personality deficits are, it’s hard to know as an audience member where the story is going, or even what the hang up is. You can argue that the whole not knowing makes the story more intriguing or even makes it easier to empathize with Fran. But, the exact opposite occurs.
Without knowing Fran’s character history, her goals, or even if she’s contemplating taking her own life; we can’t relate to Fran’s plight. And, the fact that we dwell on the unknown prevents the story from progressing. All five acts of this film take place in what should be the opening act of a three act play, with the film ending right when things are getting interesting.
The very fact that the title of the film is ‘Sometimes I Think Of Dying’ is inaccurate. Sometimes, Fran thinks of BEING dead; but none of her day dreams/hallucinations involve her actually dying.
Fran doesn’t die in her daydreams. She isn’t killed or contemplates taking her own life. She doesn’t even move on to an afterlife, or become a ghost. Fran simply lies there in a state of dead-ness/being dead.
There’s no complication to her character, there’s no threat to her life, and there’s no spiritual crisis of conscience. It just sort of is. The death doesn’t add meaning to her life, nor does it even add fear or consequence to her actions. ‘The ultimate end’, and it is completely devoid of meaning in this film.
Yet another wasted opportunity from a promising premise.
The Review — Sometimes I Think Of Dying
I often consider Daisy Ridley the only good thing to come out of a disappointing trilogy of Star Wars sequels. Her acting range, emotional depth, and even ability to pull off her own stunts were a lone bright spot in an otherwise misguided money grab.
So, the fact that Daisy Ridley’s considerable acting chops have NOTHING to do in Sometimes I Think Of Dying, doubles down on my frustration. We don’t get a compelling character history, we don’t get character obstacles that hold her back, and we don’t get the ‘Why’ of her character.
There’s no purpose, there’s no conflict to speak of, and there’s no real barrier that gets clarified.
We often hear that one page of a script equals one page of screen time. Yet, so little happens in this movie, I’d be willing to guess the script for this 93 minute film, comes in a much less than 93 pages.
Dave Merheje does an adequate portrayal of the everyman love interest, Robert. But, one has to wonder if a man fitting Robert’s description would really grab Fran’s romantic interest.
Also, the imdb logline for ‘Sometimes’ lists Fran’s ability to make Robert laugh is what attracts HIM to HER. If this is the reality that Director Rachel Lambert is trying to sell, this makes the believability of the film even harder to buy.
Marcia DeBonis’ role as Carol helps ground the film as the baseline of a ‘normal’ character; and shows just how abnormal Fran’s point of view really sees things.
Unfortunately, without greater background knowledge of Fran’s history or character complications, it’s hard for the audience to buy into the premise of the story being told.
Additionally, the ‘death’ daydreams don’t lead the film anywhere. They don’t add a threat to the story. They don’t flush out Fran’s character. And, they don’t intersect with the plot of the story.
An interesting premise, a potentially interesting character — completely wasted by a film that never even answers the most basic ‘why’ questions about the main character.
93 minutes of my life I’ll never get back. Skip it. Two Stars out of Five.