Sometimes I Think About Dying opens with a beautiful piece of music as the camera moves through a picturesque Pacific Northwest port town. It’s soulful and emotive and signals the quiet pain and yearning the movie conveys. We end in an office on the edge of the water where Fran (played exquisitely by Daisy Ridley) sits in her cubicle, content and comfortable in her job managing office supplies and requests, watching the simple, if almost boring, lives of her coworkers. Fran is among them but not part of them. Her attention occasionally wanders to the cranes outside, dreams from the night and other places and situations that are decidedly not here.
Her isolation and anxiety draw out over the first 25 minutes almost to the point of tedium, until new coworker Robert (Dave Merheje) begins messaging her, making jokes, conversation and all-around general charmingness. Fran doesn’t know how to react. All of her responses show her awkwardness in social situations. As Robert persists and slowly pushes Fran into a place of talking, they begin to form a friendship that Fran struggles to understand or navigate.
Daisy Ridley is both sublime and infinitely charming in this role. So much so that you wonder why we’re not seeing so much more of her in films (and a hope that this film also reminds other filmmakers and execs of this same question). She does an incredible job expressing the pain and barriers that social anxiety incurs. At how attempts to break through those barriers can often result in awkward moments or overstepping of boundaries. Dave Merheje’s extroverted charm provides us with a source of warmth to contrast against the coldness of Fran that we spend most of the movie with.
Director Rachel Lambert (working from a script by Kevin Armento, Stefanie Abel Horowitz and Katy Wright-Mead) does an incredible job creating a sense of longing and distance as we observe the lives of the people around Fran. On the surface, the subjects of their conversations, discussions and concerns seem banal, trivial or even laughable. They feel like a less funny version of The Office. But underneath the conversations about monitor cables and office supplies, Rachel lets us in on what it feels like to be Fran—to be witnessing life around her without the ability to be involved. To forever be trapped at a distance.
And here is where my primary concern with the film lies—so much of that pain and struggle is kept at an emotional distance from us. Social anxiety, suicidality and depression manifest often in quiet, silent moments externally. Internally, they are powerful forces and emotions that make the everyday actions of life sometimes extremely difficult and challenging. And while we see the external struggle of Fran, the peeks we get into the inner turmoil are fleeting and feel far away. Fran never seems to want anything in life. Though pained as she might be, she never seems to long for that which she doesn’t have. She just observes it. She doesn’t feel like she risks anything in her actions. She doesn’t seem like she wants to make a change in her life or to upend the world she’s stuck in. So while the pain of her struggles is real (especially to those who understand them in their own lives), Fran is kept distant from us, the audience, in a way that robs some of the emotional complexity and power that is under the skin of the script and Daisy Ridley’s performance.
Quiet, careful and measured, Sometimes I Think About Dying gives us a strong performance of a woman trapped in the quiet space her anxiety has created for her—a space that I wish we could have seen more.
Upcoming Sundance Film Festival screenings of Sometimes I Think About Dying: Friday, January 27, 2023 at 3:15pm MST at Eccles Theatre, Park City.