Sometimes Fran pictures herself lying in a quiet forest, dead. Sometimes, Fran imagines herself being lifted, probably by the neck, by a massive crane, dying. Sometimes, there’s a big snake or a desolate beach. Sometimes, yes, Fran thinks about dying. And that’s OK because Rachel Lambert’s whimsical “Sometimes I Think About Dying” and the complicated woman at its center also think about other things, good things. Like, well, not dying. Maybe even, perhaps, living. For a film about the pull of death, there sure is a lot of life in this low-key charmer.
Lambert’s initially mannered style suits the film’s wonderfully funny first act, as we’re introduced to Fran (Daisy Ridley, getting a chance to show off the kind of nuanced acting that didn’t have a place in her “Star Wars” turns), her dreams of dying, and the spectacularly boring life that might make anyone ponder the great beyond. Fran’s days are mostly spent in the distant company of her sweet, if banal co-workers (really, aren’t the people you work with the people you spend the most time with? and how horrifying is that?). An office drone at the port authority of a tiny Oregon sea town, no one seems to notice Fran much, just the way she’d like it. Or does she?
Fran flinches when other people talk to her, lingers at the periphery of most gatherings, and seems convinced that she’s just not that interesting. But her inner life certainly is fascinating and saying she “thinks about dying” gives short shrift to the multitude of thoughts swirling in her head. Ridley does fine work with even the smallest of movements, all the better to key us into what Fran is thinking. With a tiny shake of the head here, a too-long blink there, all zeroed in on with careful close-ups shots, we can’t help but be part of her world.
Lambert doesn’t skimp on the more overt clues about Fran’s life, like her nightly routine of chugging a glass of wine before she even takes her coat off. (The film’s screenplay comes from Kevin Armento, who draws from his play “Killers;” plus Stefanie Abel Horowitz, who directed the original short; and Katy Wright-Mead.) Even when she’s matched with other strong talents like the hilarious Meg Stalter (as a yappy boss) or the always-emphatic Marcia DeBonis (who doesn’t look a day removed from her turn in “13 Going on 30”), Ridley shines brightest here. You cannot help but root for her, which means you can’t help but root for Fran.
The eventual twist that sets Fran on a new life path, one maybe not so interested in contemplating suicide, concerns the arrival of a new co-worker, the similarly just slightly weird Robert (Dave Merheje). He piques Fran’s interest when — during one of many painfully funny and terribly honest — office meetings, he introduces himself by noting that he likes “uncomfortable silences.” Oh, you too? His dry humor soon moves to Slack messaging with Fran, who sees a kindred spirit or at least the kind of person she might want to go to the movies with. For Fran, that’s a big step, and Lambert treats it with the kind of gravitas and respect it deserves. When we laugh in “Sometimes I Think About Dying,” it’s never at Fran. That also feels big.
Set over eight days, Fran and Robert soon whip through a series of maybe-kind-of dates. But Fran is her own worst enemy, and her continued belief she’s just not that interesting — even as chatty Robert seems happiest shooting her rapid-fire questions about her life — stands in the way of her being actually interesting to another person. Still, she’s routinely pushed beyond her comfort zone, whether that means wearing more color after exclusively sporting muted tones or emerging as the star of a murder mystery party in which, yes, she actually gets to say out loud one of her death fantasies, to other people’s delight.
If that sounds like a thin-ish premise, it is. The film’s somewhat scattered final act gives itself over to less humor and more scary sequences, more probable death scenarios, and Fran falling headlong into what may be true depression (she lays on her living room floor for over 24 hours after a particularly bad interaction with Robert). And yet Lambert’s snappy sense of humor and Ridley’s game spirit never fully fade. After that living room floor experience, Robert asks Fran what she did for the rest of the weekend, to which she replies, “Oh, laid around.”
Again, there’s that deep affection for Fran: Even as we’re watching her at her lowest point, Lambert stealthily reveals more of her world, like a healthy and happy assortment of plants dotting her apartment. They want to live, and Fran helped them to do that. Can she do the same for herself?
The end result might be expected, but Ridley and Lambert do winning work to get us there. Life is hard, being a person is almost impossible, and sometimes we all have to take the chance to think about what’s coming next.
“Sometimes I Think About Dying” premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.