01st Feb2023

Sundance 2023: ‘Sometimes I Think About Dying’ Review

by Jasmine Valentine

Stars: Daisy Ridley, Dave Merheje, Parvesh Cheena | Written by Kevin Armento | Directed by Rachel Lambert

In a small town on the Oregon coast, Fran spends hours at her job, barely moving for her office cubicle. Rarely speaking to anyone or endeavouring to make friends, her ghosting through life is matched with visceral fantasies about how it all might end. When Robert starts to work at the same company, Fran begins to tread the uncertain path toward building a connection with a stranger.

When it comes to 2020s cinema, we’re often told that bigger is better. Movies don’t pack out a cinema screen unless they’re adorned with superheroes, gunfights, and car chases that freewheel into an explosion of a finale. In the case of Rachel Lambert’s Sometimes I Think About Dying, the payoff is unexpectedly pleasant. Pointedly choosing a path that revels in the minimal, Lambert’s direction sets out a visual language that works hard to speak for itself. Death might be the inevitable endgame, but the journey to getting there can be as desolate or poetic as we wish.

Unsurprisingly, the cinematography, soundtrack, and narrative ideology are the trio doing the heavy lifting. There’s an overarching sense of whimsy packed into the three, adorning what would be a sorry-looking, mundane coastal town with the gusto needed to be the pivotal lynchpin of a life-or-death crisis. Fleeting images of Fran in various stages of decay — be that on the forest floor or through a nautical marooning — hold an ethereal quality that’s almost a fairytale contrast to the bleak and fogged-over Oregon. It’s a fairly straightforward metaphor for the only imaginative part of Fran’s brain, but Lambert’s film utilises every second for showing that simplicity can win out in the end. Straddling the line between dreamscape and actuality, the purposeful lack of dialogue is, for the most part, a decision that doesn’t need explaining.

While lines are few and far between, performance holds strong. Ridley excels as the complexity-riddled Fran, almost constantly moving between a state of conscious abrasiveness and a childlike curiosity to connect. Her counterparts, though strong, can often pale in comparison, not quite reaching toward the ensemble workplace that it could possibly end up becoming. However, the nonchalant arrival of Dave Merheje’s Robert does work to bring out the best of Fran, pushing her into a world where Americans inadvertently say “nodded off” as if they’d spent 15 years living in Hackney. Sometimes I Think About Dying just falls short of the ode to cinema trend, simultaneously being a narrative strand that is quickly dropped and the vehicle for Fran’s understanding of a wider world context.

Best viewed with a fresh mind and an appetite for the artistic, Sometimes I Think About Dying is an ideally complex conversation on the fundamentals of humanity. Sure, we can overlook our colleagues who still use a 5-change CD player or are intent on grabbing our intention over Slack, but perhaps their worst traits can bring out the best in others.

**** 4/5

Sometimes I Think About Dying screened as part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.


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