“It’s hard, isn’t it? Being a person.”
Fran (Daisy Ridley) lives a beige life. She goes to her quiet, monotonous job and does her quiet, monotonous work. After that, she comes home to her quiet, monotonous house. Then she does it all over again the next day. She rarely speaks to anyone; instead, she just watches from the background, eavesdropping on conversations she can’t quite bring herself to join. Fran floats on the periphery of life, merely existing instead of actually living. The only time she truly comes alive is when she’s imagining herself dying, which the film handles with wry wit yet sincere sensitivity.
SOMETIMES I THINK ABOUT DYING foregrounds the background, turning a woman who would be most other films’ mousy tertiary character into the focal point. Director Rachel Lambert and writers Stefanie Abel Horowitz, Kevin Armento, and Katy Wright-Mead turn the inner life of a lonely, insecure woman into a fascinating study of depression, shyness, and interpersonal connection. Dabney Morris’s dreamy, soporific score underscores Fran’s melancholy, making sure the imagined death scenes never play as a mockery of her psychological state.
When the funny and gregarious Robert (Dave Merheje) starts working at Fran’s office, she allows herself to open up with him a bit, and they begin a tentative romance. She never “comes out of her shell,” though, and that’s where SOMETIMES I THINK ABOUT DYING gets it right. Fran isn’t a problem to be solved or a damsel in distress waiting for the right guy to turn her from a shy, insecure girl into the prom queen. She makes Robert laugh just by being herself. There’s nothing wrong with her quiet, reserved demeanor. It just takes the right person to see Fran for who and what she is.
Dustin Lane’s cinematography works wonders in showing the viewer who Fran truly is. Wide shots of awkward conversations between Fran and Robert are sweet and riveting, hitting close to the bone in surprising ways. Equally surprising is their first date: a close-up of a shared slice of pie suddenly becomes an uncomfortably intimate moment. Lane finds the momentous in the mundane. Just like Fran, objects you wouldn’t normally pay attention to become the most important things in the world.
It’s this sense of revelation that makes Fran’s self-loathing so much more painful to watch. She thinks she’s uninteresting, that she’s not good at anything, but if she would just allow people to perceive her — an impossibly tall order for someone with this kind of depression and anxiety — they would see just how wonderful she is. The film itself is both an act of showing Fran what other people see in her and showing other people how hard it is for Fran to accept that.
SOMETIMES I THINK ABOUT DYING is one of the truest depictions of depression, and of passive suicidal ideation, precisely because Fran’s world is so flat and so beige. Living with depression has its lows, to be sure, but more than anything it’s unbearably boring. The film manages to entertain while conveying that painful flatness, and it helps the viewer understand the insidious trap of never being able to escape your own head. It’s a marvel, really; the film conveys exactly how depression feels while never being depressing itself. It shows how boring depression is without ever boring the viewer. Ridley does a fantastic job of drawing the viewer into Fran’s opaque world. That opacity may hold us at a distance, but the distance allows us to see and understand how hard Fran struggles in the Sisyphean task of being a person.
SOMETIMES I THINK ABOUT DYING had its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
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