Conversations with Friends review: A tedious romantic drama

It is very obvious that the creators of Conversations with friends hope that will happen. The new drama is Hulu’s second limited series adaptation of a Sally Rooney novel and arrives just over two years later. normal peoplewhich was based on Rooney’s beloved 2018 book of the same name, premiered and became an instant hit for the streaming service.

This series made stars out of its two relatively unknown leads, Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal, and it has earned well-deserved praise for being one of the most intimate, earnest, and emotionally insightful television dramas of recent years. The fact that normal people created in April 2020, at a time when many were starving for the kind of intimacy and connection he was exploring, only helped him connect even deeper and wider than he could have done his beginnings under different circumstances.

Now, several years later, Hulu and the BBC have re-teamed with many of the creative minds behind normal people for Conversations with friends. The two shows are a lot alike, and the latter apparently offers many of the same narrative pleasures as normal people. Unfortunately, Conversations with friends ultimately fails to recapture the magic of Hulu’s previous Rooney adaptation.

Illegal business

Enda Bowe/Hulu

Based on Sally Rooney’s 2017 debut novel, Conversations with friends follows Frances (Alison Oliver), a college student in Dublin who spends some of her free time performing her spoken word poetry with her best friend, Bobbi (Sasha Lane), who also happens to be her ex-girlfriend. One evening, after playing together at a local bar, Frances and Bobbi find themselves engaged in a conversation with Melissa (Jemima Kirke), a famous author.

Their meeting leads to the three women eventually reuniting at Melissa’s house. This is where Frances first meets Nick (Joe Alwyn), Melissa’s actor husband. Frances feels instantly attracted to Nick and it doesn’t take long for it to become clear that the attraction is mutual. While Bobbi is open about her attraction to Melissa, Frances struggles to keep her feelings for Nick a secret – a task that becomes even more difficult after the two begin an affair.

Despite having four potential main characters, Conversations with friends is primarily concerned with exploring the passionate romance of Frances and Nick. However, while normal people has often taken advantage of taking the time to show the lives of its two protagonists, Conversations with friends tells almost its entire story from Frances’ point of view. The series’ limited scope leads to many of its biggest problems – namely its bloated structure and sluggish pacing – and Frances’ story ultimately doesn’t seem substantial enough to warrant dedicating 12 episodes to her.

A narrow point of view

Frances stands near a set of train tracks in Conversations with Friends.
Enda Bowe/Hulu

As Frances, Oliver creates a compelling and quietly magnetic screen figure. She navigates and communicates all of Frances’ conflicting emotions well throughout. Conversations with friends‘ 12 episodes, and makes his character’s occasional emotional spirals terrifyingly real. That said, Frances is too inward and self-obsessed to be the show’s constant center of attention. What’s worse is that Frances’ affair with Nick is what Conversations with friends spends most of its time exploring, is the least interesting aspect of its history.

That’s not to say the passion Nick and Frances feel for each other isn’t palpable, as Oliver and Alwyn have strong on-screen chemistry together. The two never quite match the warmth that was present between Mescal and Edgar-Jones in normal peoplebut there is enough to impregnate, at least at the beginning, the couple a lot love scenes with an added layer of desire and passion. Apart from their carnal desires for each other, Nick and Frances never form a convincing couple.

Part of that is down to the show’s decision to get them together as quickly as possible, but the show’s biggest problem is Nick, who feels paper-thin when introduced and continues to feel frustrating and superficial throughout Conversations with friends. The series never provides a satisfying reason why women like Melissa and Frances would fall so deeply in love with Nick, and Alwyn’s rigid performance fails to bring a new dimension to the character. Ultimately, his blandness causes his affair with Frances to lose its romantic tension somewhere around Conversations with friends‘ middle.

For their part, Sasha Lane and Jemima Kirke do a solid job as Bobbi and Melissa, two characters deeply underserved by the show. This is true for many of the show’s supporting figures, as her relentless focus on the Frances-obsessed perspective makes nearly everyone in Conversations with friends feel unwritten. Frances’ inability to see outside of herself becomes a major issue over time, and though the series tries to hold her accountable for her selfishness, her finale eventually pulls its punches and ends before to make him understand the seriousness of his Actions.

Diminishing returns

Frances stands with one arm wrapped around Bobbi in Conversations with Friends.
Enda Bowe/Hulu

While Conversations with friends largely does not match normal peopleIts romantic intensity and contemplative yet propulsive pace manages to match the soft, intimate aesthetic of its predecessor. Lenny Abrahamson and Leanne Welham share the management of Conversations with friends, and the two filmmakers bring intense visual intimacy to the series. A multi-episode trip to Croatia also produces several warmly lit nighttime sequences and sunny daytime scenes, making this the section of the show that is undeniably the most visually pleasing.

In this direction, Conversations with friends is largely successful as a stylistic exercise, and in the rare moments it extends its reach beyond Nick and Frances’ relationship, the series often manages to achieve the same conflicted and complex emotional intensity that elevated normal people in greatness. This is especially true for the sixth (and best) episode of the series, which does not feature a single appearance by Nick d’Alwyn and instead culminates in a conversation between Frances d’Oliver and Bobbi de Lane that turns ranks as the most complicated and emotionally charged series. moment.

For devoted fans of Rooney’s work, these brief flashes of grandeur may be enough to do Conversations with friends feel like a worthwhile investment of their time. But there’s something decidedly tragic about the fact that the best episode of Conversations with friends is also the one with the least interest in the very love story he spends so much time exploring.

Conversations with friends premieres Sunday, May 15 on Hulu. Digital Trends had access to its 12 episodes.

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