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Everybody Hurts

Dustin Lane/Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Sometimes I Think About Dying (2023)

The obvious joke that "Sometimes I Think About Dying" could have come from the Sundance Random Title Generator is deflated a bit by the fact that the film already heard this gag, back when the original short of the same name played at the festival in 2019. But the shoe does fit. The new expansion is from the same writers - Stefanie Abel Horowitz who also directed the short, Katy Wright-Mead who also starred in it, and Kevin Armento who wrote the original play that inspired both short and feature - and has the same outline: a meek, introverted Fran (here Daisy Ridley) is lonely and depressed in the overcast Oregon gloom. The short was essentially a two-hander, while this feature, directed by Rachel Lambert, has room for all the co-workers Fran endures at her office job, well-meaning overly upbeat cubicle dwellers that might make anyone consider oblivion, if not freelancing.

This also means more time spent watching Ms. Ridley's face while Fran suffers inner turmoil in silence. And it is in silence: the original short, having no time to lose, gave Fran a voiceover narration about the unhappiness taking root in her head, while the feature version jettisons that to rely instead on Ms. Ridley's mute expression and a few mild dream sequences. The most symbolically potent of these involves a large snake in Fran's place of work; but the hint of Biblical guilt doesn't grow into anything dramatic. The lilting score, plus Ms. Ridley's dark stoicism and naturally arched eyebrows as Fran stares at her coworkers, opens the possibility that the ones doing the dying might soon be all the other people. And indeed the original play, called "Killers," did draw parallels between suicidal thoughts and homicidal ones, although the echo here is fleeting.

The test for a film about mental health is whether it demeans the struggles of the character doing the struggling, and this one does not. The original Fran groped painfully towards recovery under her own steam while the new one encounters a character in even worse straits than her as a wake up call, which might be a narrative cheat; but compassion is compassion where ever it stems from. The test for any film at all is just whether it works as a film, and the change of tone needed to make Fran's unhappiness last 91 minutes is a fragile mix of familiarity, inertia and fitful exaggeration. As Fran and Robert (David Merheje), the nice co-worker whose friendship is making all her defence mechanisms fire at once, haltingly get to know each other, the film puts Julee Cruise and "Mysteries of Love" from "Blue Velvet" on the soundtrack. Which might be bold, and might be illuminating, and might be pushing your luck.


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