Sometimes I Think About Dying is a simple romantic comedy that’s boosted by solid performances and a keen eye for little moments that mean a whole lot.
Well, good news for Barbie: we have confirmation that someone else does, indeed, think about dying. Sometimes I Think About Dying is a romantic drama/comedy based on 2013 play “Killers” by Kevin Armento (who also co-wrote the screenplay). Rachel Lambert directs Daisy Ridley as Fran, a woman with immense social awkwardness who shuts herself off from her work colleagues while living alone and daydreaming about her own death. But when her new coworker Robert (Dave Merheje) reaches out to befriend her, Fran finds herself slowly coming out of her shell, while still fighting to avoid slipping back into her old anxieties and dark fantasies.
On its surface, Sometimes I Think About Dying sounds like a pretty standard romantic tale, and it even kind of is on the page … aside from the whole death fantasy thing, which usually only happens to the viewer when sitting through a bad romcom. But what the film lacks in innovative writing, it more than makes up for in its directing and editing. Daisy Ridley’s performance is very understated, fittingly for a character as introverted as hers, but it anchors so much of the film’s quiet heart. She’s closed off, impolitely curt, and does everything in her power to avoid any form of conversation, but you can tell just by looking at her that this is coming from her nerves and fears rather than anything malicious.
Sometimes I Think About Dying does a great job at showing just how aggressively resistant Fran is to bonding with anyone or even acknowledging their presence, and it commits to that portrayal for so much of the early stretch that I was pleading for her to find some form of joy in her life. The shots linger on every aspect of the dour rut that is her life, which pays off because of how well the film immerses us wholly into her state of mind and makes her so sympathetic. I’ve only seen one other film by Rachel Lambert (I Can Feel You Walking), but it’s clear to me that she has a great knack for taking often mundane, tiny moments that we can all recognize and having them be the stars of the show.
Which is fitting, because that’s essentially the message the film itself is intending to get across. Sometimes I Think About Dying is fascinating because it captures both the beauty and monotony of typical everyday life, visually and verbally. Anyone who’s worked in a corporate environment, for example, will recognize the eye-rolling awkwardness of conference room “icebreakers” that probably have you hankering for ice to put in a cold, stiff drink rather than bonding you with colleagues. But then you can also recognize the simple joy of sharing food with your coworkers and feeling a little slice of home in an otherwise dry environment.
A lot of that familial feeling comes from Dave Merheje as Robert, whose much more open and outgoing brand of awkwardness makes him an engaging foil for Fran as the two start to connect. Because Fran is largely reacting to events, a lot of the film’s forward momentum is on Merheje, and he tackles it very well. Once again, it’s the small, relatable moments and lines with him that get both Fran and the audience drawn into a scene. Special shout-out to the two of them going to the movies and having opposite reactions to what they see. As someone who’s been on both sides of that conversation, it only reinforced why I never pick a movie when I’m with family.
That relatability, along with Lambert’s ability to put it front and center, is what elevates Sometimes I Think About Dying and makes it not just about two humans connecting, but also a more general appreciation of life. In blocking out so many experiences, Fran has grown numb to the very process of living itself, which I believe is what leads her to think about dying. But where a lot of other films would have her overcome that through some bigger, bolder experiences, this one really does keep everything at the ground level, to a point where a simple house party in the third act is the big, remarkable breakthrough for the character.
Most of Sometimes I Think About Dying is initially set to a deliberately muted, drab color palette that matches the emptiness within Fran, particularly in the office that’s sometimes so dimly lit that I’m convinced some of those workers are vampires. But not only does cinematographer Dustin Lane still expertly frame the film, but his lighting subtly gets warmer and more welcoming the more Fran’s social world starts to open up. The production only gets bold during Fran’s actual death fantasies themselves. They’re few and far between, but they effectively convey the bleakness of her thoughts and add the lightest of spice to an otherwise ordinary setting.
I’d also be remiss to not mention a monologue towards the end that, through my interview with Rachel Lambert, I learned was written by the director herself. It sums up so much of what the film’s been about in a succinct and potent way, and it’s delivered through some of the film’s most tender acting from Marcia DeBonis as one of Fran’s coworkers. I can see some people thinking it’s too upfront in a movie otherwise filled with subtleties, but as one of the main cappers of both the film’s message and Fran’s arc, I think it really works.
I don’t expect Sometimes I Think About Dying to win everyone over, as it would probably be too conventional for some and too slow for others. Honestly, I can see myself not caring for the film had it been in different hands. But if you’re like me and can appreciate something that successfully immerses you as much as possible into a slice-of-life affair, while having plenty of meditations to read into, then I’d recommend you seek the film out. Much like the very lives of its characters, Sometimes I Think About Dying may look unremarkable at first, but it can be lovely when you really gaze under the surface.
Sometimes I Think About Dying opened in theaters in NY (Angelika) & LA (The Grove) on January 26, 2024 with a national rollout to follow. The film will be released in UK cinemas from April 19. Read our interview with director Rachel Lambert and star Dave Merheje.