While she says her banal, nondescript, spreadsheet-crafting office job is the only thing she loves in life––besides cottage cheese––one wouldn’t guess it from the way Fran Larsen (Daisy Ridley) carries out her dreary 9-to-5 routine. Spending the labored minutes staring at leakage in the ceiling tiles, gazing at her computer screen, and barely speaking a word to her overenthusiastic colleagues, Larsen has something more existential eating away at her soul: she’s preoccupied with dying. Whether it’s being washed up on a beach, hanging from a crane outside her window, being consumed by the forest, or a violent car crash, she has recurring visions of what could be an escape from her lonely life of isolation. Although not feeling fully formed with its emotionally rushed finale, Rachel Lambert’s Sometimes I Think About Dying is a humorously droll, narratively restrained look at the feigned personalities of workplace office culture and the social anxieties of being forced into such spaces.
Expanded from Stefanie Abel Horowitz and Katy Wright-Mead’s 2019 short, itself based on Kevin Armento’s play “Killers”––with all three taking on writing duties here––the feature has much of the trappings of a kind of archetypal Sundance dramedy: an opportunity for a blockbuster actor to display their chops with darker material that still contains a tone of brevity, splashes of the fantastical, and a lived-in feel to a rural part of the country, this time being the Oregon coast. What’s most impressive is how the film avoids a treacly, cloying tone when it comes to dealing with such elements. With a focused visual language and unhurried pace, we are quickly trapped in Fran’s mind, feeling the psychological weight of her depression. With almost no lines in the first act, much less character backstory across the entire film, Ridley’s admirable performance is one that relies on stillness, dread, peering eyes, and the slightest of facial tics to convey just how uncomfortable her character is around officemates. As they occupy their day with absurd discussions of favorite foods and work supplies––the very fabric of vapid office culture, relatable to anyone with this experience––the ensemble nails this posturing of larger-than-life personalities, staving away any dreaded uncomfortable silences.
While Fran is usually able to plod through her day barely being noticed, the arrival of a bubbly new employee, Robert (Dave Merheje), affords the opportunity to have someone in the workplace unfamiliar with her predilection for a solitary life. From jovially prying into her day-to-day business, first on Slack––the film delivering cinema’s first great depiction of the platform––and then inviting her to a movie, Fran’s personality starts to show ever so slowly. After this first act, the narrative shifts gears into what a relationship dramedy may look like if one side was wholly unwilling to engage, and Lambert keys in on the curt replies and stifling silences to find a certain humor in this lack of human connection. The story also keeps Fran’s backstory mostly mysterious, forcing one to rather focus on her every movement to pick up the details of her personality. Because of this restraint, a single smile or brief response of how she may be feeling comes as a major revelation.
When Fran and Robert’s relationship becomes more complicated, the narrative starts to suffer. Setting up an opportunity to dive deeper into the machinations and reverberations of depression, the last act comes across underwritten and rushed, making clear the film doesn’t have much to elucidate about the human condition of loneliness beyond putting us into a certain headspace. If laudable for the ways in which it can find comedy in the banal, and for showing a new side of Ridley, one wishes Sometimes I Think About Dying ultimately left more of a finite impression considering its weighty, universal subject matter.
Sometimes I Think About Dying premiered at Sundance 2023.