By Greg Carlson
Kevin Armento’s play “Killers” inspired both Stefanie Abel Horowitz’s 2019 short film “Sometimes, I Think About Dying” and Rachel Lambert’s 2023 feature “Sometimes I Think About Dying” (no comma this time).
Both movies were Sundance Film Festival selections. The former, which was also programmed in the pandemic-derailed 2020 Fargo Film Festival, can currently be viewed on Horowitz’s Vimeo page.
The latter, which stars Daisy Ridley clearly relishing a change of pace from the “Star Wars” universe, is just as good. Director Lambert includes many of the same story beats in a dark and heartfelt comedy/drama light years from the galactic adventures of Rey.
Ridley, who also serves as one of the movie’s producers, plays Fran, a quiet wallflower with a bleak outlook on the world. Fran is observably competent and capable in her dreary office job. Her quotidian routine provides plenty of time for daydreams, which, true to the title, frequently include – but are not necessarily limited to – visions of her own death.
Lambert and Ridley make a terrific team. Introverts will nod knowingly – privately and individually – in agreement as Fran is seen and not so much heard by her coworkers. The director establishes a rhythm via Fran’s relentless daily coping mechanisms. But that predictable schedule is interrupted with the arrival of Robert (Dave Merheje).
After the cringe-inducing ice-breaker at the team meeting that introduces Robert in one of Lambert’s sharpest scenes, we discover that he shares Fran’s off-kilter sense of humor. Soon, the new colleague has Fran thinking about spending time together away from work, a major step for the guarded and careful skeptic.
Movie dates and participation in a murder mystery party (the latter is another of the film’s highlights) seem like the usual prelude to a blossoming love match, but Lambert mines Fran’s prickliest tendencies in ways that are frustratingly familiar to anyone who regularly gets in the way of their own happiness.
Any movie that uses the meaningless drudgery of the low-stakes workplace invites comparisons to cubicle standard-bearers like “Office Space” and both the original and American versions of “The Office.”
The sleepy Oregon setting (some of the film’s location photography took place in Astoria) perfectly suits Fran’s attitude and wardrobe, mirroring the protagonist’s carefully cultivated sense of safety. But Lambert reaches for something resonant in Fran’s anxieties and depression.
“Sometimes I Think About Dying” is a story about making meaningful human connections and taking risks. In one sense, the movie introduces a quivering spin to the romantic comedy. In another, this is a movie about making peace with yourself.
Several critics have taken issue with Lambert’s careful pacing, offering the old complaint that “not enough happens” in the movie. I would counter that the contents of the story and the way in which they are delivered is by design and not at all an indicator of some deficiency.
In one great moment, Fran sees her old officemate Carol (Marcia Debonis) after the latter has retired. Their exchange could work as a self-contained short on its own. In it, everything happens.
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