The young actor plays against type in her latest, which recently premiered at Sundance.
Daisy Ridley was easily one of my favorite aspects of the latest Star Wars trilogy. She gave Rey, the orphan junker, an undeniable light and a heart that drove the films with her larger-than-life performance. Even though I wasn’t alone in that summation of Ridley’s take in a galaxy far, far, away, she has recently gone on record saying new roles have eluded her since those films wrapped. This is sometimes due to typecasting, or being afraid that a name associated with a big franchise can overshadow a film or even cheapen it. Natalie Portman famously suffered the same fate after her turn in the prequels, but has proved time and time again it was the director to blame, not the actor, for her rather wooden performance.
Ridley’s latest, Sometimes I Think About Dying, which recently screened at Sundance, is a melancholic slice of life about Fran (Ridley), a quiet young professional who spends her days pouring over spreadsheets in a drab port authority office in St. Helens, Oregon. The film from director Rachel Lambert begins with one of her senior colleagues retiring and establishes the mundane, exhausting drudgery of small office life. When her co-worker’s replacement Robert (Dave Merheje), who is your stereotypical office “movie guy” (but in a good way), takes a healthy interest in Fran, she is challenged to finally come out of her shell to meet him halfway—if this is something she wants to pursue. Opposite Ridley’s Fran, Merheje’s awkward chemistry and take on Fran’s co-worker offers up an unexpectedly vulnerable take on the divorcee that we don’t see nearly enough in films. Their awkward, fledgling courtship slowly nudges the narrative forward, and their relationship begins to eclipse Fran’s constant daydreams of peacefully lying dead in a clearing in the woods or on the beach.
The film definitely serves as a showcase for Ridley, who gives a mostly understated performance that is riddled with subtlety to explore Fran’s humanity. From her lumbering walk to her constantly fidgeting in meetings and gatherings, Ridley crafts a unique character: Fran isn’t depressed, she’s not emotionally unstable due to some traumatic event, she’s just private and sad sometimes — and that’s perfectly okay. There’s a small joy to her moments of pushing off her shoes or spreading cottage cheese on an English muffin, and this film relishes in those smaller pleasures. Robert, on the other hand, is constantly upbeat and outgoing; his character’s more extroverted nature only accentuates the more quiet Ridley, who takes us through a litany of emotions with just a twitch of an eye or a glazed over stare.
The restrained script began as Kevin Armento’s play Killers, which morphed into a Sundance short by the same name, and now returns as a full feature. Ridley came on as a producer, and similar to Aubrey Plaza’s current MO, this move allows the actor to move forward with projects that are possibly unconventional, allowing them to play against type and audience expectations. The film couples its script with a dreary look that is supplemented by dream-like inserts that give us a window into the calm and solace of Fran’s soul. The film is grounded, but has an almost ethereal element as well.
Sometimes I Think About Dying lets us know it’s okay to be sad sometimes, and that it’s completely normal. The film allows Ridley to show audiences she can do more than wield a lightsaber as she struggles with one of the scariest adversaries in all the galaxies: the soul-crushing mundanity of a dead end job. Ridley offers up an intensely focused performance that proves the woman who claims she’s “not very interesting” is actually the complete opposite. Sometimes I Think About Dying is a sublime, melancholic gift of a film that puts the kind of protagonist who is normally relinquished to the story’s periphery in the forefront.