THE STORY – Lost on the dreary Oregon coast, Fran wastes her daylight hours in the solitude of a cubicle, listening to the constant hum of officemates, occasionally daydreaming to pass the time. She is ghosting through life unable to pop her bubble of isolation. And then Robert starts up at the company. He is new to town and the dynamics of the office. He is a naturally friendly person who keeps trying to chat with Fran. Though it goes against every fiber of her being, she may have to give this guy a chance.
THE CAST – Daisy Ridley, Dave Merheje, Parvesh Cheena, Marcia Debonis, Meg Stalter & Brittany O’Grady
THE TEAM – Rachel Lambert (Director), Kevin Armento, Stefanie Abel Horowitz & Katy Wright-Mead (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 91 Minutes
There’s very little glamour that office life brings when you’re surrounded by stacks of crisp-white copy paper, blinding fluorescent lights, and stale communal coffee. It’s no surprise, then, that offices aren’t a sought-after location for films, but this ends up being the best possible setting for Rachel Lambert’s unsettling film, “Sometimes I Think About Dying.”
Often centering itself in a drab cubicle-lined office, Lambert, along with screenwriters Kevin Armento, Stefanie Abel Horowitz, and Katy Wright-Mead (the three worked together on the short film of the same name), set a foreboding mood with a film focused on loneliness and the mundaneness of life. Featuring a solid performance from star Daisy Ridley, viewers experience part of her world as she navigates a less-than-thriving life. The pacing may sometimes struggle, but things change for our quiet heroine when a new face arrives.
The opening shots remind us that some of the most beautiful things in life are the little ones, like a precious deer or a flock of pigeons. Well, Fran (Ridley) doesn’t really care for that stuff or much of anything else. She goes to work, which she says she loves, although she rarely communicates with her coworkers or is acknowledged by them. She just keeps to herself at her desk, hunched over and doing whatever it is she does all day. With so little dialogue, Ridley’s physical acting chops shine as she brings this character to life. When beloved coworker Carol (Marcia Debonis) retires, Fran awkwardly stands by the door, takes a piece of cake, and slips out while others become emotional or mingle among themselves. The less noticeable she is, the better – an introvert to the extreme.
There’s very little that brings joy or excitement to her life, aside from strange fantasies she conjures. While most people might daydream about being anywhere but work, Fran thinks about death. She pictures her body in a moss-covered forest or hanging off a crane – these scenes are amplified by Dabney Morris’s fairytale-like score. But, instead of the writers leaning heavily into what these dark thoughts mean, Fran becomes preoccupied with Robert’s (Dave Merheje) arrival at work. He’s funny and gets along well with her coworkers — he’s quite the opposite of Carol — but there seems to be a spark between them. They can make each other laugh with their dry Slack messages, but when he wants to know more about her, she puts up walls to keep him out.
Ridley and Merheje play up the shyness and sweetness of their characters very well as they get to know each other. It’s clear that they’re total opposites — a trip to the movies leaves Robert so excited about what he just watched, while Fran hated every minute of it — but it’s fun to see them try to make things work. It’s also great to see a whole new side to Fran as she slowly emerges out of her shell. At one point, she and Robert participate in a murder mystery, and she impresses everyone with her colorful description of how she died (she has had some practice over the years). What the writers do well is that they don’t entirely change her personality simply because she meets someone new. Fran still struggles to feel like she fits in with all the people in her life, especially when Robert asks questions about her love life. As we spend more time with her, we can tell there’s a great, interesting person underneath all the walls she’s built up. It might take some time before she herself believes it, but a beautiful conversation shared with Carol toward the end of the film might help Fran in her journey.
The film’s second half is much stronger than the first, especially in terms of pacing. The slower pace definitely does add to the foreboding and depressing tone that begins the film, but with already very little happening on screen, it doesn’t make it that exciting to watch. But, thankfully, “Sometimes I Think About Dying” finds its footing as a muted dark comedy about the bland but grand things in life and taking chances. It might be uncomfortable, as Fran discovers when she starts moving away from her routine life. Still, it serves as an important reminder that you might discover something great about yourself in the process.