Film Review – Sometimes I Think About Dying
Sometimes I Think About Dying
Despite its somewhat misleading title, Sometimes I Think About Dying (2023) is not a dreary or morbid watch. In fact, it is the opposite. This is a sweet, funny, and beautiful tale of everyday people going about their daily lives. It’s about taking chances and stepping out of one’s comfort zones in hopes of finding a connection. I was won over by its charm immediately. I got drawn in by these characters – the type of whom we have all encountered – and found immense empathy for all of them. Yes, death is a constant running theme, but in a strange way the effect is life-affirming. Although the narrative goes in some fanciful directions, there was never a moment where it didn’t touch on some elemental truth. This is just a lovely movie.
Director Rachel Lambert (with writers Stefanie Abel Horowitz, Kevin Armento, and Katy Wright-Mead) set the stage in a quiet Pacific Northwest town. For those of us who are from this area, we immediately recognize it to be Astoria, Oregon – the same town where The Goonies (1985) was filmed. But this is a much different plot featuring a much different cast. Fran (Daisy Ridley) works in a small office next to the local port. She is an introvert, spending the majority of her time huddled in her cubicle staring at a computer screen. While Fran is cordial enough with her coworkers, she is constantly on the periphery. Her daily routine involves going from home to work and back again, eating cottage cheese, and going to sleep.
But what makes Fran unique is that she fantasizes about dying. Every so often, her mind will drift to some scene where she is a corpse – in the middle of the forest, along the beach, hanging from a crane, covered in bugs, victim of a car crash, etc. The cinematography (Dustin Lane) and editing (Ryan Kendrick) structure these scenes not as gruesome or bloody, but with a magical sense of realism. When Fran looks out her window and sees a crane, the camera will cut to a shot of her feet slowly lifting into the air, implying that she is being hung. Sometime later, Fran sees herself lying in the middle of the woods, the light shining down on her like some kind of classical oil painting.
The moments when Fran drifts into her imagination contrast with the way she interacts with the real world. She does not seem depressed or suicidal, although she is certainly lonely. She participates in work functions and attends parties when invited. She may be on the quiet side, but that doesn’t paralyze her from conversing with her coworkers. The writing and direction wisely ignore any explanation for Fran’s obsession with death. Don’t we all have our own unique quirks? Do we really need to explain why we have our hobbies or passions other than that it’s part of who we are as individuals? I think that is what the narrative is getting at with Fran. This is her thing, her identifiable quality. She doesn’t appear to be a danger to herself or others.
Lambert’s direction allows the environments to act as an engaged character. Astoria is captured with heavy overcast, fog, rain slicked streets, and damp air (all playing into the PNW stereotype). The sounds and sights inside the office rang so true that I wonder if Lambert or anyone on the production actually had that kind of job. I worked in a very similar setting for years. The conversations about what people did during the weekend, team meetings in cramped boardrooms, the silly ice breakers to introduce new staff, the sheer delight over people bringing in donuts – they all triggered small bursts of memory in my head.
The central storyline is revealed when Fran meets the new employee, Robert (Dave Merheje). Her reserved nature clashes with his more extroverted personality, leading toward the possibility of romance. Small talk turns to a night at the movies to murder mystery parties. Each step along the way, Fran and Robert grow closer. Ridley and Merheje work very well together, using the social awkwardness between their characters as a strength. It’s as though they are tip-toeing around one another, trying to find an opening where they can meet on equal ground. Robert sees Fran as more than just a coworker – he genuinely wants to know more about her and her interests. And in Fran’s own way, she sees Robert as a means to break out of her shell. One of the funnier moments happens when Fran is deep into one of her death fantasies, only to be interrupted by an image of Robert – a clear sign of her growing attraction. The writing hits a speed bump developing this relationship, shoehorning unnecessary conflict that could tear the two apart. But Ridley and Merheje hold everything together with their performances. How their characters navigate one another’s eccentricities is adorable – you can’t help but root for them.
I adored Sometimes I Think About Dying. It hit me at exactly the right place at exactly the right time. When Dabney Morris’ music comes in – filled with longing and emotion – I realized that I was witnessing something bordering on greatness. This is a small, intimate look at ordinary people, but the dramatic power felt grand. It’s not perfect, but maybe that’s a good thing. These are not characters amid a great mission or purpose, but their stories are just as worthwhile. Sometimes, the most moving thing to watch are people being exactly who they are and embracing it with full hearts.