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Sometimes I Think About Dying Review: Lifeless Romance

  • Interestingly surrealist qualities
  • Charming, quirky office antics
  • Lack of energy
  • Emotionally muted to a fault

There are low-key independent films, and then there's something like "Sometimes I Think About Dying," which premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Purposefully understated and emotionally numb, its energy level is so low, it's best enjoyed with a handful of Xanax. Still, though the movie's narrative is aimless and muted to a fault, it does offer Daisy Ridley a platform to display different talents than the ones she showcased in the action-packed "Star Wars" films that made her famous. Her extremely reserved character doesn't necessarily silence critics who have called her wooden, however. When all is said and done, "Sometimes I Think About Dying" is a pleasant enough office romance, but it ultimately isn't substantial enough to linger in viewers' minds long after it's over. Adapted from a 2019 short film of the same name, it also doesn't prove worthy of its expanded runtime.

Daisy Ridley stars as Fran, an office drone for whom every social interaction and rote pleasantry requires great reserves of inner strength. An extreme introvert, she doesn't appear eager for more opportunities to mix with her colleagues. Yet Fran isn't particularly happy, either. She has repeated fantasies of her own dead body in a variety of locations: attracting bugs on the forest floor, strewn over a pile of driftwood on the beach, etc. Her life is lonely, but it's difficult to tell the extent to which she actually cares about this. 

Everything changes, however, when Robert (Dave Merheje) begins working at her company. Fran finds herself being drawn further and further out of her shell as the two become closer, but the film's greatest moment of conflict arrives when this doesn't seem to be happening fast enough. Robert, reading her social anxiety and shyness as indifference, demands a more clear indication that she cares for him. Ridley's strongest non-verbal scene comes in response to this. How can he not see that she likes him, when it's costing her everything to be outwardly demonstrative?

Dreamy but dull

"Sometimes I Think About Dying" is at once surreal and devastatingly mundane. It has shades of "Office Space" in its depiction of life in a bland corporate office, but instead of satire, it's just numbingly depressing. Fran's office is blisteringly dull, filled with people who can only seem to communicate in hackneyed clichés torn from the pages of "Dilbert." Everyone who has ever been made to play an office icebreaker game to introduce a new hire to the rest of the team will probably break out in stress hives as they watch this film.

The movie's greatest strength comes from juxtaposing Fran's hyper-realistic office life and her surreal, abstract fantasies. At one point, the film seems to pay homage to the imagery of 1929's "Un Chien Andalou" as Fran lies in the forest, a swarm of insects crawling out from the center of her outstretched hand. These brief moments of whimsy give the production a much-needed creative spark. In some sequences, like the murder mystery party Fran and Robert attend, everything seems to come to life. But there ultimately aren't enough of these flashes to keep the audience entirely engaged. "Sometimes I Think About Dying" succumbs to the dreariness of its gray world too often, and only occasionally seems interested in examining it on a deeper level. 

It doesn't help that few of the actors bring much charisma to the project. Daisy Ridley has an undeniable screen presence, but her role is so muted that she's not able to shine as Fran — nor would it make sense for her character to do so. Dave Merheje is equally bland as Robert, although his character has less of an excuse not to light the screen on fire. These quirky office workers do their best, but they're written primarily to be caricatures and have limited opportunities to make an impression.

Marcia DeBonis shines

Interestingly, it's character actress Marcia DeBonis who steals the show as Carol, a long-time employee who retires from the office at the beginning of the film, only to have her plans thwarted by her husband's sudden and tragic stroke. Although her retirement is accompanied by all the clichés people often say when happily leaving a job (as well as the ceremonial giving-away of cherished office supplies), we feel how much it means to her. She is utterly bereft without a job or the happy retirement she had planned on. In just a few brief scenes, she generates more emotion than any other character in the film.

"Sometimes I Think About Dying" isn't a bad movie, and none of the performances are necessarily poor. But it's so low-key, there's almost no energy to push the narrative along. A quiet romance with purposefully understated characters is one thing, but this film barely has a discernible pulse. "Sometimes I Think About Dying" overshoots its filmmakers' intentions and fails to make much of an impact, aside from a few disappointingly brief sparks of life.

Release plans for "Sometimes I Think About Dying" have yet to be announced.