Sunday, September 24, 2023

Movie Review (Sundance 2023): ‘Sometimes I Think About Dying’ Explores the Bland Office Existence

Director: Rachel Lambert

Writers: Stefanie Abel Horowitz, Kevin Armento, and Katy Wright-Mead

Stars: Daisy Ridley, Dave Merheje, and Ayanna Berkshire

Synopsis: 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.

To this day, “slow-burn” remains a characteristic that either gets people excited or immediately worried. The reasons are pretty simple. On one hand, a slow film can be one of the most immersive cinematic experiences a viewer might have, if done right. From atmospheric technical attributes to characters worth the emotional investment, if the viewers connect with the subject matter, they’ll easily lose themselves on the big screen. On the other hand, it can also become one of the most challenging movies to get through if it’s meaninglessly boring. Sometimes I Think About Dying is somewhat in the middle of these two poles.

Something about this film got my attention. Daisy Ridley definitely stands out from the cast, but personally, I found the seemingly generic premise to hold great potential. Sometimes I Think About Dying sets its action in a small town, following Fran (Ridley) living her utterly boring, uneventful daily life. Fran wakes up early, walks to her dull desk job in a dull office space, takes care of dull spreadsheets, returns home, has a dull microwaved dinner, and sleeps early. Get the gist? Essentially, she lives a dull (!) life where nothing really impactful occurs any day.

That is, from her perspective. Fran isolates herself from any sort of social interaction. Depression, anxiety, insecurity, or simply lack of interest are real-life issues that many viewers will easily relate to, even if they can only associate a small part of their lives with it. Personally, as someone who, in fact, works at a desk every single day, whether at the office or at home, the repetitive nature of the job inevitably creates some phases of pure tedium. Honestly, if not for the wonderful group of co-workers and friends surrounding me, I’d be much more like Fran, which is what Sometimes I Think About Dying does excellently.

It’s a sad, depressing, even tiresome experience, but that’s just part of life. Not everyone is constantly happy. Not every day is a great day. The movie succeeds because it’s so relatable and lifelike. Without realizing it, the audience develops a strong connection with the protagonist, elevating one of the most beautiful, inspirational final shots I’ve seen recently. Obviously, the cast does a good job of forming that bond with the viewers, especially Ridley, who genuinely gives a career-best performance. Her microexpressions go a long way in showing how her character evolves throughout the runtime.

Sometimes I Think About Dying is wrapped by bland aspects: an almost squared aspect ratio, typical camera angles, a colorless palette, a sleep-inducing score (Dabney Morris), and short, sparse dialogue – most of the talking in this film is mere background noise. Fran’s random, weird dreams are the most stimulating parts precisely because they break that overall monotony. Still, as purposefully bland as it might be, director Rachel Lambert is able to grab the viewer’s attention. As a fan of The Office, the witty humor really worked for me, but I can’t deny the fact that I’m never watching this movie again.

This is one of the most frustrating things about being a cinephile. I totally understand the filmmaker’s intention, themes, and messages. I even personally relate to some of it. However, in the end, the repetitive structure and “nothing happens” narrative undeniably lower the replay value. In addition to that, there are many topics that I couldn’t find a reason to invest in due to a lack of connection with the other characters. Still, after a good night’s sleep, I actually feel more positive than yesterday, so maybe it’s a film that will grow on me over time.

As one character puts it, “it’s hard being a person”. And with that, I can fully relate to.

Grade – B-


Manuel São Bento
Manuel São Bento
I'm a Portuguese critic based in Sweden with a tremendous passion for cinema, television, and the art of filmmaking. I try to offer an unbiased perspective from someone who has stopped watching trailers since 2017. As years went by, I was able to develop my voice within the community and cover major festivals. Co-host of a weekly film podcast, R&M: A Conversation on Cinema. Outlets: Firstshowing, InSession Film, That Shelf, Filmhounds Magazine, Echo Boomer (PT), Magazine.HD (PT). Proud member of associations such as GFCA (Global Film Critics Association), IFSC (International Film Society Critics), and OFTA (Online Film & Television Association). You can find me across social media through @msbreviews. Portfolio:

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