In a small coffee shop located in a remote coastal town in Oregon, Fran (Daisy Ridley) walks in to purchase some doughnuts for the members of her office. Reserved and unsure of her selections, she hears her name called by her former office mate Carol (Marcia DeBonis), who is sitting alone, looking out the window as she drinks her warm beverage. They have a conversation about life, something that they never usually did because while you spend forty hours or more a week with someone at a job, you never really get to know some, and understand what is going on in their life. As their talk ends, Carol says to Fran, “It’s hard, isn’t it? Being a person,” a message that sneakily rings throughout Rachel Lambert’s quiet new feature, Sometimes I Think About Dying.
For Fran, her life consists of a daily routine of coming to work, working on her spreadsheets, avoiding the pleasantries of office chit chat and bonding, going home to make something to eat, and sitting in her house while dossing off about whatever dream like thought that comes to her head. She’s introverted, and clearly doesn’t like change or people invading her personal bubble. And even though Carol left, and they didn’t have a relationship outside of email exchanges and the off chance run in at the coffee machine, this is a disturbance for Fran and people like her who don’t know how to full handle this type of movement in their lives. Through Fran’s eyes, we see the most accurate depictions of the modern day work life that is cringy and painful to live if you have been in a situation like Fran before, with nothing but small jokes and awkward pauses to fill an eight hour a day.
When the team is brought into a claustrophobic conference room for a weekly meeting, Robert (Dave Merheje) is introduced to the group as Carol’s replacement. This news does not phase Fran in the slightest, outside of a moment where they are doing an ice breaker where she reluctantly has to reveal something about herself, which the rest of the group finds strange save for Robert, who finds it interesting. Once the meeting is over, Fran heads back to her desk, and continues to work while also looking at the office and her co-worker’s interactions with Robert as the new guy. It’s only when Robert messages Fran on their Slack channel about ordering office supplies, and makes a couple of innocent jokes, does Fran become curious about this new person in her life.
Messages become conversations in the office to even the two going to a movie on the weekend and grabbing pie and coffee afterwards. While she is still reserved, Fran allows Robert too slowly break down her wall and enter her life, sharing time with one another more and more, not wanting to be alone in a world of isolation that Fran has built for herself over time. This is when the film opens up too, allowing Ridley to blossom outside of her quiet, meticulous performance and evolve, allowing Fran to wrestle with the emotions and feelings she hasn’t been able to express for either a long time, or ever before. This may sound like it is becoming a generic love story, but it is that at all. Sometimes I Think About Dying is a journey about what it is like to open your heart and mind to the things that scare you the most and realizing that we can’t go through life by ourselves. In our nature, humans long for more than what they have but some of us never are given the tools or opportunities to explore those different paths, but for Fran, she’s given that chance, and once she steps forward just a little, there isn’t a way she can turn back to the life she had before.
Lambert’s steady direction throughout allows the film to slowly build to moments of deep emotion that you don’t see effecting you until it does. As we are seeing Fran’s life change, Lambert constructs beautiful, visceral sequences of dream like wonder to metaphorically show her emotional evolution with her life to offset the real world events that are occurring throughout the 90-minute runtime. While repetitive at times, they carry enough purpose to justify their overall existence. The final three scenes of carry the entire film over the finish line, understanding that everything in this slow burn dramedy has built to a peaceful resolution that Fran needs. With this, we get to see the best performance of Daisy Ridley’s career so far, who is spectacularly somber, patient and innocent as Fran. Your heart will break for her as she is struggling to keep it all together and within this role, she showcases the right emotional balance necessary to allow you to root for Fran’s personal transformation. Without her work here, the movie wouldn’t be able to connect as a whole.
As someone who has worked in an office like structure like Fran, and gone through the dread of the daily machine-like structure of going in a thankless place of work and giving your soul to something that doesn’t give you purpose, my heart melted for Fran as she broke through and blossomed in Sometimes I Think About Dying. It gives hope that your passions and goals can be reached, even if that is making new friends and inviting strangers into your heart. In not allowing the uncomfortably and procedurally ways of her job and life to consume her, she opens herself to new possibilities, something we should all do instead of continuously clocking in and out of our work stations only to come back after a short yet unfulfilling two-day weekend.
Sometimes I Think About Dying is screening in the US Dramatic Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute | Dustin Lane