Sometimes I Think About Dying premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. An expansion of the short film of the same name which premiered at Sundance 2019, the film tells the story of a young woman struggling with the ennui brought about by an apparently meaningless office existence.
Fran is the sort of woman who signs a card to a departing co-worker otherwise covered with ebullient lovingly scrawled messages with a meek “happy retirement” which is practically hidden by the paper’s indentation. When she signs her name, it’s with a lower case “f” as though even the act of capitalizing her own name might risk calling to much attention to herself. In the game hands of Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Last Jedi), Fran – or perhaps I should say fran for now – feels like a complete portrait of a young woman grappling with the point of a mundane existence clicking through spreadsheets during the day before evenings drinking Malbec alone until collapsing into a fitful couch-based sleep.
It’s a quiet, introspective performance that helps establish a cohesive, albeit languid, tone for the film. Daydreams in the vein of a very sad Walter Mitty soon overpower fran’s focus on her job – a crane outside her office suggests a hanging to her morbid imagination. It’s not so much a desire for suicide as the natural endpoint for her aimless, trapped existence. In a savvy bit of editing, just as the film starts to feel fully stuck in the mundanity of fran’s life director Rachel Lambert and editor Ryan Kendrick infuse life into the narrative through the addition of Dave Merheje (Ramy). After an awkwardly funny introductory meeting run by the wonderful Megan Stalter (Hacks), Merheje’s character – Robert – doesn’t exactly open up fran but does manage to find a common ground with a few anti-social jokes. As the pair spends more time together, it’s clear they share a muted attraction. It never feels as though Robert can somehow magically changes fran into Fran, rather he helps trigger a slow bout of introspection. I hesitate to get into details and I hate throwing in a non-sequitur thought like this, but Marcia DeBonis (Heels) nearly steals the film in just a few short scenes.
In a post-COVID world, it’s becoming increasingly clear that filmmakers are interested in telling stories about mental health. It makes sense – months, if not years, of increased isolation along with an omnipresent increased fear of death is an obvious trigger for a deeper introspection about emotional well-being. Compared to recent higher profile films like Empire of Light or The Son, Sometimes I Think About Dying feels subtle and more emotionally grounded. The narrative can feel a bit stretched even at a brief 91 minute runtime and the filmmaking is perhaps more functional than electrifying, but I think there’s more than enough of value in its depiction of loneliness and depression to merit a watch.
Sometimes I Think About Dying premiered in the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.